The European Space Agency’s member states have supported a policy to assist work on both space safety and terrestrial issues, as well as future space exploration programs. The ESA Council of Ministers backed a plan published by the agency in October to work on three “accelerators” in climate, crisis response, and space asset protection, as well as two “inspirators” in human spaceflight as well as planetary exploration, in a resolution passed at its Intermediate Ministerial Meeting on November 19.
“Today’s most important issue was a clear and universally accepted agreement to mandate the director-general of the European Space Agency to hold the requisite negotiations among participant states to make these concepts and this vision possible,” Manuel Heitor, the meeting’s chair and the Portuguese government’s minister for science and technology said in a press conference after the meeting.
The accord is contained in a resolution known as the “Matosinhos Manifesto,” named for the Portuguese city where this meeting took place. The brief statement publicly accepted proposals described in a report to Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General by a high-level advisory committee in October.
Three near-term accelerators are among the ideas, which are meant to speed up work on “important social concerns” when space solutions are underutilized, according to the report. One, dubbed “Space for a Green Future,” entailed a larger use of satellites to combat climate change, including European aspirations to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. At the meeting, that concept was identified as the most important.
The “Rapid and Resilient Crisis Response” accelerator looks at how to better leverage space capabilities to react to natural disasters as well as other crises, such as wildfires and floods related to climate change. The “Protection of Space Assets” accelerator would focus on space weather hazards and orbital debris to space assets.
“What we want to provide is that we use space for the purposes of society,” Aschbacher said during the briefing, “placing the client at the center and ensuring that we are speeding the use of space.” Two longer-term inspirators were also endorsed in the manifesto. One possibility is for Europe to play a larger part in human space exploration, like creating its launch capability. The second is a concept for a mission to collect samples as well as return them to Earth from an icy moon in the outer solar system.
While the manifesto and report define the broad concepts, they are lacking in details, such as the types of missions required to put them into action, funding levels, and responsibilities for the European Union (EU) and foreign and commercial partners.
“What the Matosinhos Manifesto has given me is a mandate to get to work, to build up these inspirators and accelerators,” Aschbacher added. “That entails figuring out what has to be done, who can provide what, and what the overall frameworks are for putting it all together.”