European astronauts want their own independent crew spacecraft. According to the Association of Space Explorers-Europe, which represents European astronauts, they need their own crew of spacecraft like NASA, Russia, and private companies such as SpaceX.
European astronauts have a long history of flying into space since 1978 when Sigmund Jähn from Germany boarded a Soyuz spacecraft and traveled to the Salyut 6 space station for a week. There will be many more European astronauts flying in spacecraft operated by Russia and the United States to various space stations. Not too long ago French and German astronauts boarded SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle to the International Space Station.
According to a new “manifesto” released on Wednesday, European astronauts would now need to have their own independent spacecraft to reach the International Space Station.
The manifesto stated, “While Europe is still at the forefront of many space endeavors, such as Earth observation, navigation, and space science, it is lagging in the increasingly strategic domains of space transportation and exploration. Europe’s Gross Domestic Product is comparable to that of the United States, but its joint investment in space exploration does not reach even one-tenth of NASA’s.”
Many other nations such as Russia have the Soyuz crew vehicle, China has the Shenzhou spacecraft, and NASA has SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Within the next few years, the US agency will also have the Orion spacecraft and Boeing’s Starliner capsule. India too is not lagging behind and has plans to develop and demonstrate a crewed transportation system to low Earth orbit within the next two years.
The manifesto further stated, “If we miss this unique chance to challenge the status quo, we will have to continue procuring human space transportation from other actors, with no guarantees that our needs and values will be a priority. We will be paying customers in a position of weakness, repeating the mistakes of the past in other strategic domains, which left us dependent on external players for our energy requirements or Information Technology development. Our inaction would further impact European industrial competitiveness: European taxpayers’ money would be used to advance industrial competitors from abroad.”
The timing of the manifesto is just right, with the newly appointed director-general of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, pushing for more ambitious programs. He has shifted his focus on European astronauts, they are employees of the European Space Agency.
Traditionally Europeans have gone their own way in space and should continue doing the same. The manifesto was released just ahead of the European Space Agency’s, Space Summit in Toulouse, France. The main agenda of the summit will be to discuss strategies for topics such as space exploration and addressing climate change. French President Emmanuel Macron is among the speakers. If everything goes well Aschbacher will probably present it to the member nations of the European Space Agency at the Ministerial Council meeting in Paris in November, where funding decisions will be made.
Once the funds are granted for a crew vehicle, it will follow with the bigger questions like would it launch on Ariane 6 rocket or some other new rocket and who all will be building the spacecraft. It may take a decade to design, test, and fly a new spacecraft. It all depends on numerous factors other than funding such as whether Europe seeks a basic capsule-like Soyuz or something larger and more capable like Crew Dragon.