Ms. Christmann, why is space travel “a key issue” for the Greens, as you say? We owe a large part of our knowledge of the climate crisis to space travel. Satellites provide us with important data about what is happening on Earth. The early detection of forest fires, help for sustainable agriculture, knowledge about the quality of water – all this is inconceivable without satellites in space.
Does climate protection give us a different view of space travel, or does Russia’s war rather do so? The war makes it clear how important technological sovereignty is. In addition to the climate, military aspects have also received more attention, for which satellites are central. In principle, we should not only be able to develop technologies relevant to space travel in Europe, but also to bring them into space.
Do the Europeans need their own spaceship to transport astronauts? Technological sovereignty does not mean renouncing cooperation or even foreclosure. You don’t have to do everything all by yourself. We are now seeing this with the Americans’ current moon mission, for which we are providing the service module that takes care of the astronauts in the capsule. The module is produced by Airbus in Bremen and for me it is an example of cooperation on an equal footing.
So no EU spaceship? The question of how our astronauts can fly is not decisive, but cooperation on an equal footing. What matters is that they can fly, not who they fly with. However, we must avoid dependencies.
So would you rather transport an astronaut with Elon Musk’s SpaceX for 50 million euros than develop a capsule yourself? That’s too black and white for me. There’s not just SpaceX, but other potential vendors that are in the development phase. Due to the commercialization of space travel, various carrier systems will come onto the market. For me it is not mandatory that an astronautical rocket is a European one. The priority is that there will continue to be European astronauts and in the future there will also be more female astronauts.
Is it true that the French would like to have a European spacecraft, but the Germans don’t? Our priority in space is to add value to what is happening on Earth, particularly in terms of climate protection. And again: Cooperation is crucial, as is shown by the International Space Station ISS and, on a European scale, the Ariane 6 launch vehicle, which will probably be available next year. Project Kuiper commissioned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a huge achievement for Ariane 6.
Bezos has booked 18 flights to launch Internet satellites. He prefers to fly with the Europeans than with the US SpaceX. However, further, final developments are required for the Kuiper order. As a result, Ariane 6 should be internationally competitive in the foreseeable future and the development costs should fly back. But it is also clear that the development time for Ariane 6 was far too long overall, so in future we will have to be more competitive from the start.
Ariane 6 has cost around five billion euros so far, and there is talk of at least another 500 million euros. Various further developments are required, some of which are related to Kuiper, but also to the acceleration of development. So there are extra costs, which will then be precisely quantified at the European Space Agency (ESA) ministerial conference in the autumn and distributed among the participating countries.
Could Ariane 6 also transport an astronautical capsule after its completion? There are very different estimates as to the additional development effort and whether this would basically be a completely new rocket.
Of 34 European Galileo satellites, 24 are in space and ten are ready for launch on Earth. Will they fly with Elon Musk or with Ariane 6 in the next few years? The first goal is to get the satellites into space as quickly as possible. The failure of the Russian Soyuz rocket has made this more difficult. The faster Ariane 6 comes, the better, but of course we have to look at alternatives. It is estimated that more than 15,000 satellites will be launched into space by 2030, most of them Internet satellites. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos alone have thousands of them. Have the Europeans been left behind again?
The EU Commission has proposed a secure connectivity system. It’s also about technological sovereignty. But the system, estimated at six billion euros, is intended for military and other government uses.
At present, the initiative is still too much focused on the public sector. However, we see an opportunity to strengthen the entire space ecosystem, in which the state acts as an anchor customer and leaves plenty of room for start-ups. We are campaigning for this together with Italy, since the proposal by the EU Commission does not yet do justice to this. A purely publicly financed satellite infrastructure only for public users would ignore the possibilities of the market and new market participants.
The German start-ups Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory want to come onto the market with a small carrier rocket, a so-called microlauncher. The budget committee of the Bundestag recently released ten million euros for the development of small satellites. Is the market, previously dominated by a few corporations, changing?
A lot is happening in space travel. Due to the rapidly increasing number of satellites, we are almost moving from one-off production to industrial production. Start-ups play a major role in this. With the large companies Airbus and the Galileo manufacturer OHB in Bremen, we have a great deal of expertise that we now want to bring together with new companies. The microlauncher initiative that we support contributes to this.
The German government is funding the initiative for a small rocket with eleven million euros, while the French are spending 200 million euros on a similar project. This is an example of the different approaches.
Isar Aerospace has now acquired so much private capital that they are not far from the French. That is exactly our principle: With eleven million, we want to provide start-up aid that also mobilizes private capital. The state can help as an anchor customer.
Then we will soon have small satellites made in Germany and a launch vehicle. All that is missing is a launch pad or a small spaceport, such as the Federal Association of Industry in the North Sea envisages. Why are you against it?
For me it is crucial that we have a good solution in Europe. There are already locations in Sweden and Norway and another one is being added in Scotland that German start-ups can use. The industry is currently independently examining whether the North Sea can also play a role.
When you present the federal government’s new space strategy next year, it will also be about dealing with space debris. What happens to the thousands of satellites in space that run out of fuel after ten years and disappear into the vastness of space? A satellite should still have enough fuel at the end of its “runtime” that it is thrown out of orbit and burns up. This is guaranteed for all public and European satellites. Private providers are not yet obliged to do this. For the space junk that is already there, we need new technologies. This will not work without government initiative.
At the last ESA ministerial conference in 2019, the German representatives pledged a good three billion euros. That was before Corona and before the war. How big is the traffic light government’s ability and willingness to pay? Space travel is indispensable for many technologies related to climate protection and cyber security. Germany will remain a strong ESA partner.