All systems are go as France zeros in on space ambitions

·3-min read
AP - Malcolm Denemark

France has grabbed a firm footing in the next generation space race – throwing 9 billion euros at ramping up its astronomical ambitions over the next three years. The news comes as Paris hosts the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which brings together thousands of experts from the world’s burgeoning space industry.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced the 25 percent increase in spending on French space programs in a speech at the IAC’s opening ceremony on Sunday.

The investment plan, she said, was part of the space strategy defined by French President Emmanuel Macron in February.

Large sums have already been earmarked to rebuild France’s competitiveness in space – funded by the 30 billion euro France 2030 investment plan – with launch vehicles a major priority.

“We cannot be dependent on other partners to launch our satellites,” Borne told the IAC gathering, adding this meant supporting Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket launchers as well as those developed by emerging private companies.

The new funds will deliver a “massive” budget increase for the French space agency CNES, while France will also bolster its contribution to the European Space Agency ahead of the body’s ministerial meeting in Paris in November.

Record turnout

Being held over five days, the IAC is this week drawing a record turnout of more than 8,700 registered participants.

They include ESA, NASA and the space organisations of the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, India, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and others.

The 73rd IAC – whose theme is Space For All – comes as space emerges as a major market to conquer, both as a sector of competition and of collaboration.

France is taking the chance to show off its culinary prowess at the event, with a booth by CNES reminding conference-goers that in space, good food was not only important for the health of astronauts – but also for their morale.

"France is leading by example with meals for the festive season as well as the first space cooking recipe," the space agency said in a tweet.

Exchange of ideas

While the United States was the first to invest in space, Europe is among several players busily developing their space industries with the help of information sharing and the exchange of ideas.

Borne said that ensuring Europe had autonomous access to space could only be achieved through global collaboration “because the economic stakes are colossal”.

Propulsion systems, space electronics, orbital mechanics, new materials and artificial intelligence have been identified as just some of the specific skills needed to conquer the final frontier.

So far the bill for global commercial activities in space alone more than tripled to reach 357 billion dollars in 2020 – with more missions being sent into orbit than ever before.

Add to that moves by NASA to relaunch its program to the Moon, and the joint collaboration by China and Russia to launch a lunar space station.

New opportunities are emerging that go beyond the aerospace and defence industries, with satellite broadband internet access accounting for half of growth projections to 2040 according to figures from Morgan Stanley.

Thanks to satellite data, space has also emerged as an essential means of observing climate change.

  • The 2022 IAC will continue until 22 September at Paris’s Porte de Versailles exhibition centre.