The European Space Agency (ESA) and its member states have gathered in a series of space exploration workshops culminating in a discussion in the ESA Council held in Paris, France.
ESA’s Council discussed Europe’s ambition to play a leading role in global space exploration based on its European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P) that was created by ESA’s ministers in December 2016 in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Strong support emerged at the council on the shape of an exploration mission framework for the future of E3P. The framework foresees a balance of investment between ESA’s three exploration destinations:
- Low Earth orbit;
- The Moon; and
- Human infrastructures;
- Transportation; and
- Robotic missions.
According to ESA, participating member states in the programme also approved steps that could see Europe become a major player in the ‘lunar gateway’ – an idea that extends the presence of humans one thousand times further into space.
Technological developments for future space exploration
Current technological developments are underway, these include: enhancements of the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft to support visiting astronauts, as well as modules for the gateway itself.
ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker says: “There’s no doubt that the next decade is going to be exciting for space exploration. ESA and its member states are working hard to keep Europe at the heart of the journey of discovery and fascination that lies ahead, and the Council decision was an important step forward.”
The importance of implementing ongoing exploration activities was also discussed, some of which include ESA’s role in the ExoMars programme and the International Space Station (ISS), where ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst returned to work recently.
Member states supported Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner’s plan to start:
- Negotiating agreements for elements of potential ESA contributions to the Lunar gateway;
- Negotiating agreements covering potential European contributions to international Mars Sample Return missions; and
- Examining mission concepts for lunar exploration missions supporting objectives of the European scientific community.