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

Sunday September 18 at 73e 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 main powers. This year, however, we note the absence of Russia and China. On the program: Moon and sustainability.

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

Willingness to appease in times of major conflict

The war in Ukraine was discussed. Faced with tensions with China and Russia, Bill Nelson notified 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 problem according to their agency (the CNSA). Nelson clarified that the collaboration with China depends above all on the will of China and underlines “a lack of transparency” in their space program.

The former American astronaut recalled the force of pacification of 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 which led to the establishment of the International Space Station (ISS).

Heading for 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 employees 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 leaders 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 does not participate in the program, wishing to peacefully carry out its national lunar robotics program. Remember that China and Russia have joined together to build a lunar base.

Space4All: space for all

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 putting into orbit. from the Kibo module of the ISS. All are admiring of the ESA’s initiative to select para-astronauts. Bill Nelson, however, qualified by recalling 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 accessible free of charge to everyone, everywhere on the planet can be used for agriculture, urban planning, climate monitoring, and a myriad of other possible applications.

Adapt to increasingly rapid changes

The key word that never ceases to resonate at the IAC is ” sustainability ” (sustainability). All the agencies want to define the “guidelines” to keep 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 notified that ” space is more crucial than ever “, and ” agencies need to adapt » without however being ruled out, because they are still the ones who define the standards and ambitions of today’s and tomorrow’s space.

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