Ensuring a globally successful European space sector

European space sector

Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Director General of The European Space Agency (ESA) shares his views on ensuring a globally successful European space sector

In this interview, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Director General of The European Space Agency (ESA) shares his thoughts on the extent to which European spirit, identity and cohesion are the overarching aspects for Europe to achieve the best of outcomes for its states and citizens in space and for a globally successful European space sector.

As a European, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Director General of The European Space Agency (ESA), starts by explaining that the idea of the United States of Europe is a very good idea, in his opinion. This notion is one that he inherited from his parents and also echoes the thoughts of Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955).

Wörner adds that today, we are not even close to this notion in terms of the borders within Europe, but he emphasises that the United Space in Europe is something that can be achieved. He turns this around, however, by sharing his belief in a United Europe in Space, a point he is keen to explain further to us.

Europe should be united at least in space, by working together not only within the borders of Europe but on a global scale. As such, we are working with Russia, the United States (U.S.) and China – knowing that in each case there are political problems here and there. If we look to Europe, we have the development of Brexit in the UK, but the country remains a partner of ESA which we are very happy about, therefore, ESA can contribute towards a United Europe in Space.”

Going into more detail about the United Space in Europe concept, Wörner underlines the intensive cooperation of different European entities for the sake of strengthening Europe. He draws our attention to the clear European vision contained in the ESA Convention, signed in Paris on 30 May 1975 by the nine original member states – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

“The father and mother of the ESA Convention thought about how we can realise that Europe is really working together, and they invented an instrument, which people are still fighting against. Whenever a member state of ESA puts a certain amount of money into a special trust, we are directly supporting industrial policy in the member states. All our projects are multi-national and, in many cases, cover all ESA member states. Sometimes this is not the cheapest solution, but the European spirit we get by that approach leads to identity and cohesion, which are the overarching aspects for Europe to achieve the best of outcomes for its states and citizens in space and for a globally successful European space sector.

“One of the objectives we defined concerns the full integration of space into the economy and society, one was for the strength of the competitiveness of Europe’s industry and academia, plus another was to have the economy working in selected areas. So, we are doing that for all our member states plus beyond, including Switzerland, Norway and the UK – so our parameters when we discuss what we are doing in Europe goes beyond what we know as the European Union (EU) today.

Next, Wörner tells us how the ESA perceives the new playing field in the European space sector today, which comprises governments, the private sector, as well as society and politics. He stresses that during the 20th century, we had the race into space during the 1950s and 60s. This, of course, was a race into space between the governments of the Soviet Union and the U.S. However, today there is competition between a number of countries, he highlights.

“Today, we do not have this race into space, but we still have some competition between national countries inside and outside Europe. I always say that competition is always a driver, as in sport when it makes something better. Cooperation is an enabler, so when we are competing in Europe, then it is good because it is driving innovation.

“When we are cooperating, we can suddenly do things that an individual country cannot do alone or afford, such as going to Mars. Therefore, cooperation is an enabler and competition acts as a driver and to play both at the same time is not that difficult. This is a modern approach for the development of society itself.”

Wörner then shares with us the challenges that lie ahead to proactively develop the different aspects of Space 4.0, which represents the evolution of the space sector into a new era, characterised by a new playing field. ‘Space 3.0’ is where we are at now in terms of international cooperation and new approaches, which has been the focus of this interview. Wörner concludes with his thoughts on Space 4.0, which is intertwined with, Industry 4.0, the unfolding fourth industrial revolution of manufacturing and services.

“Looking to the future, for example, in the U.S. they refer to new space when they are talking about more commercialisation – in terms of the non-space sector entering the space sector. This is part of Space 4.0 concept, as is the participation of citizens. ESA did a citizen debate two years ago and we will do another one in 2019 because we want to leave participation with normal citizens which is a very important part of ESA’s work.

“Diversity is part of Space 4.0 concept; indeed, ESA’s work is very diverse with 22 member states involved plus Canada and Slovenia. Technologies also belong to Space 4.0, such as 3D printing in space, or quantum entanglement, therefore, the concept is covering an umbrella of work and I am sure that the future of space will be found within Space 4.0.”


Johann-Dietrich Wörner

Director General

The European Space Agency (ESA)

Tel: +33 1 53 69 76 54




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