Fri. Dec 6th, 2019

Europe will participate in the construction of a lunar orbital station | Science


Jorge Potti, General Director of Space of the GMV company, says that in the coming years, space "will change our daily lives much faster than we can imagine." Among other things, Potti mentions satellite navigation, which it will make possible the expansion of autonomous vehicles.In the narrow streets of Seville, narrow and twisted, it is hard to imagine how the sensors guided from space can replace the expertise of taxi drivers who stroll biting the curbs.But they will, and within Not that much.

In this city, the ministers responsible for space activities in European countries have negotiated during the last days the budgets of the European Space Agency (ESA) for the coming years. Jan Wörner, general director of ESA, expressed his satisfaction at the final result: 14.4 billion euros for the next five years (12,500 only for the next three). The figure is a historical record for the organization and a success in which the Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities in charge, Pedro Duque, co-chair of the meeting, highlighted the role of Spain.

Despite tensions over Brexit, the United Kingdom has increased its investment to ESA by 11.5%

Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation of France and co-chair of the meeting, highlighted four major objectives that want to meet the agreed investment.

A first pillar and perhaps the most colorful is the human and robotic exploration of space, which will receive 1,953 million euros. Within this program, a quarter of the money will be dedicated to collaborating with the US to return to the Moon in the next decade. More than half a century after the last manned satellite mission, two people, a man and a woman, will step on it again in 2024, although this time with the intention of staying longer.

In addition to collaborating in the construction of the capsules that will take astronauts and the rockets that will propel them, in Seville European support for an international project to create an orbital station around the Moon has been approved as of 2028. That installation , more than 300,000 kilometers away from Earth, will serve to test human resistance to prolonged permanence in deep space. The station, dubbed Deep Space Gateway, will serve as a base for manned and unmanned missions to the lunar surface. Until now, the advance of humans outside our planet is the International Space Station, which has also received a boost to continue operating until 2030. This infrastructure is in Earth orbit at 400 kilometers altitude, closer to Madrid than Seville.

Within the long-term projects for the new era of manned space exploration, the Moon will serve as a training ground for the main objective: bringing humans to Mars for the first time. Before, ESA, in collaboration with NASA, plans a mission capable of reaching the red planet, collecting rocks and taking off again on the way to Earth to analyze them in a laboratory.

A second pillar of ESA's plans is the observation of the Earth, which with 2,541 million euros will receive the greatest investment. At this point the Copernicus program, a system that includes a constellation of satellites that allow monitoring from space the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems and will be a tool to face the challenges of humanity in the coming decades. "Traveling to space allows us to enjoy the beauty of our planet, but also to assess its fragility," said Vidal.

A third essential point is Europe's sovereign and autonomous access to space. It will be financed with 2,238 million to mainly boost the development of two rockets, Ariane 6 and Vega C, with which the countries of the continent can place their satellites in orbit without relying on other powers.

The last major pillar of ESA, its space science program, has received, for the first time in 25 years, a significant increase in funding to reach 1,671 million euros. This will make it possible to advance and bring together the launch of two great missions that can change our vision of the cosmos. On the one hand, Athena, a large X-ray observatory that, among other things, will study the growth of supermassive black holes and their role as engines of galaxies and the evolution of the universe. On the other, LISA, a constellation of satellites that will detect the gravitational waves generated by the fusion of black holes or neutron stars. Its joint operation will allow to know these phenomena better.

The field in which more money will be invested is the monitoring of phenomena such as climate change from space

At a time when international cooperation does not seem to go through its best moment, space, as it was in the past, seems like a meeting place. In addition to the agreements between the US and Europe, in Seville it was confirmed that the United Kingdom still wants to be close to the continent. Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, the British Government has decided to increase its annual contribution to ESA by more than 11.5%, to 1,655 million. The interests of the country's industry, which, by giving an idea of ​​its power, builds a quarter of all the world's communications satellites, have dispelled the doubts. Spain, meanwhile, has increased its contribution by 5.9%, and reaches 852 million. The three largest investors in ESA are Germany, with 3,294 million and an increase of 22.9%, France, with 2,664 million and an increase of 18.5%, and Italy, with 2,282 million and 15.9% increase .

The increase in investment in Spain will allow, in Duque's words, to go from being a country that collaborates in the great space missions “to lead some of them”. It is the case of Cheops, a satellite that will study extrasolar planets. In addition, Spain has contributed 80 million to the human and robotic exploration program, a section in which it had very little presence.

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