In Paris, the directors of the space agency describe the state of space today

Sunday 18 September at 73e The International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris, this high mass of the civil space sector begins as usual with an exchange of visions between the space agencies of the major powers. This year, however, we note the absence of Russia and China. On the programme: The moon and sustainability.

It is a habit and nevertheless a very important moment in the space sector because it is the only time when the directors of agencies around the world meet to share their vision. Present were Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, former senator and former astronaut, Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA (European Space Agency), Lisa Campbell, director of Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of Jaxa (Japan), and S. Somanath, director of Isro (India). The French Space Agency (Cnes), which is hosting the IAC this year, was also briefly represented by its president Philippe Baptiste.

Willingness to appease in times of great conflict

The war in Ukraine was discussed. Faced with tensions with China and Russia, Bill Nelson announced that he had discussed with his Russian counterpart Yuri Borisov. NASA still plans to deorbit the ISS after 2030, and Nelson is confident that Russia will stay there until the end. We note the absence of China due to a calendar issue according to their agency (CNSA). Nelson clarified that cooperation with China depends first and foremost on China’s will, stressing the “lack of transparency” in its space program.

The former American astronaut recalled the power of pacifying astronauts in the midst of geopolitical tensions, like astronauts Stafford and Leonov, who launched the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975, then joint between the United States and the USSR. This mission, which took place in the midst of the Cold War, was the first building block of international cooperation that led to the establishment of the International Space Station (ISS).

On the way to the moon

Bill Nelson has pointed this out many times during this conference. Today’s space is notably that carried by a generation of actors and workers who will see and participate in the return of man – and the arrival of women – on the Moon with NASA’s Artemis missions. Bill Nelson took the opportunity to recall the purpose of this program: to gain experience, skills and technologies for a first manned mission to Mars “in the 2030s”. A very difficult deadline to meet.

The heads of ESA, Jaxa and CSA recalled their strong participation in the Artemis program: from the contribution of the European ESM module to the Orion spacecraft, to the development of a Japanese pressurized lunar rover, including the construction of the Gateway orbital station, with Japanese and European modules and a Canadian robotic arm. India is not participating in the program and wants to peacefully carry out its national lunar robotic program. Remember that China and Russia have teamed up to build a moon base.

Space4All: space for everyone

The heads of the agencies recalled the various initiatives to make space more accessible, with funding for university programs in Canada and the United States, Jaxa’s support for the development of university nanosatellites from emerging countries and their introduction into orbit from the Kibo module of the ISS. Everyone admires ESA’s initiative to select para-astronauts. However, Bill Nelson qualified by reminding that flight safety comes first: ” Safety first (safety first).

On the ESA side, Josef Aschbacher recalled that ” the data [d’imagerie terrestre] of the Copernicus program are freely available to everyone, anywhere on the globe can be used for agriculture, urban planning, climate monitoring and a myriad of other possible uses.

Adapt to ever faster changes

The key word that never ceases to resonate at IAC is ” sustainability ” (sustainability). All of the agencies want to define the “guidelines” for keeping space as clean as possible and space activity as carbon-free as possible. Leaders also highlighted their civilian Earth imaging program, particularly to help track climate change.

Privatization, commercialization, geopolitical and climatic tensions, the stakes for the space sector are significant. Philippe Baptiste announced that ” space is more crucial than ever “, and” agencies must adapt » without being excluded, however, because they are still the ones who define the standards and ambitions for today’s and tomorrow’s spaces.

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