Posted on September 19, 2022
ESA wants more money. Let’s develop a space industry and partnerships like in the US. What if we were inspired by the American capitalist model, instead of expecting everything from the state?
Public spending on space, a gesture with no possibility of result
In an article dated Sept. the gallery informs that the director of ESA (European Space Agency), Joseph Aschbacher, intends to obtain from the member states a 30% increase in its budget, which would thus increase from 14.38 to 18.7 billion euros.
That’s a lot, but it highlights three weaknesses of the Agency:
- It operates in a “public” spirit and must each year ask the Member States for contributions to the risks it assumes alone, without private companies, its suppliers.
- She is running (with the slowness of a turtle!) after applying innovations that she has let others (in the United States) dare to try and sometimes succeed.
- In its environment, the industrial environment, although competent, is not likely to bring about changes, or does not have the means to do so.
A different American situation
In the United States, the evolution has been different and the differences with Europe are stark today. In the beginning, with the Launch Purchase Act of 1998, NASA was required by law to use private launch vehicles whenever possible. This favored the emergence of private companies such as SpaceX, subject to competition, encouraged to develop independently of the State, even if they remained paid for by the State. Very quickly these companies that had their own money, took initiatives, experimented with innovations. Some were successful, others not so much.
This incentive to freedom and prosperity gave rise to what is called new space, a whole world of companies, of all sizes, from Bigelow (inflatable habitats) to SpaceX (Elon Musk) or Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos), or even Stemrad (Israeli-American company that designed an anti-radiation vest), which their own project, who try to carry it out and ask nothing from anyone (other than private investors who are willing to support them). From time to time they get a contract from NASA if NASA is interested. It is quite different from companies, both in the United States and mainly in Europe, which only work on a custom space project (Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Arianespace, for example). In other words, SpaceX didn’t wait for NASA to release reusable technology to try it out.
In Europe, companies working for space are very wise and wait for orders (even if they keep research at a high level, anticipating what may come). As, moreover, the ESA, like any administration, holds back with four irons in the face of whim or non-compliance with the line we always follow, mutations are rare and slow, paradigm shifts impossible. For a long time, ESA, like NASA, scoffed at reuse and now ESA is falling behind. For NASA it’s a little different because it’s in an environment new space which allows her to benefit from the innovations of others (which didn’t stop her from going astray and then sinking into the Artemis impasse, that huge expensive and unusable thing).
ESA now has a reusable Prometheus engine program and a first stage reusable Themis program, but it is a little late because, due to its mastery of the reusable technology, of which it is the inventor, SpaceX catches every launch and ESA does not. you can only count those that are imposed on your customers for political reasons (basically why choose a launch at 200 million when you can do one at 100 million?).
As a result, ESA drops to second best. The new Vega launcher can only launch small charges. It takes a while, but it’s playing in kindergarten. Its medium launcher, the Ariane 6, is an improvement on the Ariane 5, but without major innovations and, above all, without this possibility of reuse. It won’t fly until 2023 and will already be out of date.
On the side of manned flights, the contempt for this type of mission, of what we can callscientific establishment, led to considerable delay in Europe, unthinkable in the New American Space environment that dreams of astronauts on Mars or the Moon, or space tourism. It is the same haughty and arrogant spirit that considers private money unclean until it is transmuted by a tax system and that cannot conceive of partnering with the private sector bosses who must remain in charge.
That’s not how you progress. This is not the way to maximize the fruits of cultivating human intelligence. A single entity, the administration, populated by civil servants with rising careers, who do not have an entrepreneurial spirit, that is, a taste for risk due to the need to be better than the competition, and who should only please hierarchical or superior politicians who have already achieved , cannot risk an adventure that could be harmful to their administration (or the politicians who control and sanction them) and, therefore, to themselves.
The European space is severely hampered by this context, especially since there are no great entrepreneurs in Europe like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos to push, push, incite the ESA. We can only count on the possibility of reaching the top of the pyramid with employees who are a little braver than the others or simply more lucid about the catastrophic situation in which their administration (in this case the ESA) finds itself. , like Joseph Aschbacher, to try to straighten the bar or get out of the rut.
But in any case, without private capitalism and without the envy of the big European capitalists (Bernard Arnault or François Pineault are not interested in space), the sky will remain the American playground. It’s no use spending more money if you’re going to throw it from a tower in the desert.