The European Space Sciences Committee reacts

Posted By News On February 6, 2013 - 3:30pm

European Science Foundation's ESSC comments the decisions taken (or not) at ESA's council meeting at ministerial level.

Strasbourg – 6, February, 2013 - The European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC) today released its position on the perspectives for the European Space Agency's (ESA) scientific programmes. The position statement provides recommendations on the outcomes of the ESA council meeting at ministerial level, which took place on 26-27 November 2012 in Naples.

The statement comments on the impact for science-relevant ESA's programmes resulting from the decisions (or lack of) taken in the Naples meeting. They assert that despite some of the positive outcomes of the 2012 Ministerial Council, they are concerned about a number of "non-issues" discussed at the meeting. ESSC observations and recommendations of key points are listed below:

Concerning the promotion of Europe, the ESSC supported the view that some 5% of the 120 billion euro stimulation package agreed by the EU Heads of States should be made available to the space sector. The ESSC strongly feels that implementing it would represent an important and politically visible commitment to support competitiveness and growth for the space sector. It regrets that no decision has been taken on this recommendation.

Concerning the management of space data, no specific decision was taken but the ESSC believes that the Political Declaration towards the European Space Agency that best serves Europe could provide means to support the analysis, interpretation, archiving, and distribution of space data. Concerning the level of funding for ESA's science-relevant programmes, the ESSC supported the budget requests of the three ESA directorates, as presented to the national delegations.

For the Science Programme, the outcome of this ministerial council is that there is now a loss of inflation compensation. The ESSC is worried about the effects that this decision will have on the present elements of the programme, although it is pleased to see that the erosion of the purchasing power of the Science Programme has been limited. The ESSC recommends prioritising the scientific return of the Science Programme.

For the optional robotic exploration programme (ExoMars), the 2016 segment appears secure, yet the situation of the 2018 mission remains quite unclear. The ESSC welcomes the advances made with the approval of the DG's proposal but would have expected a stronger statement regarding the importance of the mission for the European planetary science, and a clearer strategy to bring the mission to fruition.

For the optional Lunar Lander programme, the ESSC reiterates its view that lunar exploration should be an integral part of ESA's Exploration Programme and thus regrets that this proposal was not subscribed in Naples. The ESSC reiterates its view that Europe should continue to play a leading role in the developing Global Exploration Strategy.

For the Earth observation programme, the ESSC is concerned about the situation of the Earth Observation Envelope programme. The ESSC emphasises not to significantly deplete the resources made available to existing envelope and optional programmes.

For GMES-related aspects, the ESSC is concerned about the current complex and undefined situation of GMES and suggests that a deep analysis and a posteriori evaluation of the whole GMES governance structures be conducted

For the life and physical sciences in space programme (ELIPS), the ESSC regrets that its recommendation regarding the need to agree on a post-ISS/post-2020 framework was not followed up. The ESSC wishes to stress that Europe is not in a position to execute its scientific objectives by itself.

Regarding international collaboration, the ESSC regrets that a specific opportunity to collaborate with China did not materialise. Opening collaborations with other partners, in addition to NASA, will be highly beneficial for the near future.

All in all, the ESSC is ready to contribute to a consolidated reflexion on the scientific and programmatic aspects of these issues.

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