French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has called on Brussels chiefs to provide a roadmap regarding space launchers by June. EU officials have already pledged to pursue a more aggressive European space strategy to prevent being outmuscled by Beijing and Washington when it comes to launcher technology and have set up an alliance with industry chiefs.
Europe has sought to access to space independent from US and Russian input in recent decades with successes such as the Ariane rockets or GPS-rival satnav Galileo.
Mr Le Maire and European Commissioner Thierry Breton held a press conference today to call for more strategic EU projects in the field of space exploration.
It comes ahead of the publication this week of a European Commission “action plan on synergies between civil, defence and space industries”.
The French are never far away when it comes to industrial policy in Brussels and Mr Breton said he was keen to drive the message home.
The commissioner, who keeps a piece of meteorite in his office, makes no secret of his fascination with space and has set up a new directorate-general at the Commission to steer these matters.
Speaking alongside Mr Breton, Mr Le Maire said: “If we want Europe to be a continent that matters in the 21st century, if we want Europe to have a strategic place ahead of China and the USA, it is essential that we invest more in the space domain.”
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He continued: “We have to give ourselves the means. Mr Macron has entrusted me with the responsibility to handle space matters.
“This is an area where we want to see results in the coming weeks.
“We share with the European Commissioner the vision of a Europe which covers all the fields of space.
“On launchers there is ongoing work with Germany and Italy to define a European roadmap in June 2021.
“We need to be quick on these subjects and have new ambitions.
“We want the EU to cover all subjects that make it possible to guarantee the industrial and economic profitability of this project: location – Galileo, observation – Copernicus and communication – Mr Breton’s project on a satellite-navigation constellation.”
The French city of Toulouse was last week chosen as NATO’s new centre for excellence in military space.
Germany had also lobbied to host the centre, which will be set up at the CST (Centre Spatial de Toulouse), which is also to be the headquarters of France’s Military Space Command, on the site of France’s national space studies center known as CNES.
Hervé Grandjean, a spokesman for the French Armed Forces Ministry, said: “Toulouse is the beating heart of the space industry and research in France with the CNES, Airbus, Thales.
“The minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, had decided to establish the space command in Toulouse, so we already have military personnel in situ.
“The choice made by NATO was logical, but we welcome it.”
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Françoise Dumas, president of the National Assembly’s Defence Commission, said: “We are extremely pleased that NATO has recognized France’s excellence in the space domain, in particular in the region of Toulouse.
“This is extremely good news for the city of Toulouse, the Occitanie region and the whole of the space ecosystem which is implanted there and constitutes a European reference.”
(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)