back to article ESA's 2030+ roadmap envisions Europeans on the Moon and Mars

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a strategy roadmap to take it into the 2030s and beyond. The publication comes on the eve of much-anticipated images from the James Webb Space Telescope, on which ESA partnered with NASA and others, but that makes one of the themes of the roadmap all the more stark – ESA needs more …

  1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    Alien

    If ESA was smart

    They'd give SpaceX a pile of money to build a rocket factory and launch & recovery facility someplace within the EU. Maybe the launch facility in Spain to launch eastward over the Mediterranean.

    1. UCAP Silver badge

      Re: If ESA was smart

      I beg to differ. They already have access to a perfectly good launch in French Guiana which has the advantage of being only a couple degrees of the equator, and hence gets the maximum boost from the Earth's rotation as well as having a safe location to dump the spent stage 1 boosters. Using a Spanish launch site looses a lot of the former benefits, while the Mediterranean is too crowded to allow a spent booster to splash down safely (plus there is a risk that an overshoot would result in the booster landing in Turkey).

      ESA is smart - I've worked with them enough to know that.

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: If ESA was smart

        Superheavy boosters will not splash down - they will return to the launch site and land again for re-use. Apart from that, I agree that French Guiana is an excellent launch site.

        Long term plans for Starship includes becoming a competitor to long-haul air travel. The noise level would restrict landing to ~20km away from the coast. Not sure if French Guiana is a popular enough tourist destination to get one of the early landing sites but coastal European cities are like a fairly high priority.

        1. Spherical Cow

          Re: If ESA was smart

          "Superheavy boosters will not splash down"

          Yes that's the plan, but things don't always go according to plan... sometimes things fall out of the sky in a messy way.

      2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: If ESA was smart

        I used to work for NASA. Yes, French Guiana is better equatorially, but that is less relevant today than in days past. The real issue is lots of cheap launches in rapid succession. That requires rocket factories with quick & cheap transportation to the launch sites, and reusable rockets ideally that land back at the launch site. No one comes close to SpaceX for lots of cheap launches in quick succession landing back at the launch site, or nearby. Nobody.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: No one comes close to SpaceX for lots of cheap launches

          Come back in two years and look for RocketLab's Neutron. Come back in ten years and ask about New Glenn's engines.

        2. Vulch

          Re: If ESA was smart

          Equatorial sites will be a boon for rapid orbital refuelling. Launching from KSC gives you one window a day for tanker launches to a particular destination, a launch site on the equator gives you a window every orbit.

        3. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Re: If ESA was smart

          The fuel to transport the vehicle to French Guiana, with all its support team and logistics, is much more than the actual total launch weight of the Ariane5. A single fully laden 747 burns roughly 300 tonnes fuel per flight. Ariane 5 is 780 tonnes total. Let alone just the *savings* for equatorial launch.

          Equatorial launch is nice to have, all things being equal. But all things are *not* equal.

          Particularly, maintaining any sort of technical team out in that steamy unpleasantness is surpassed only by the unpleasantness of a posting to Kazakhstan. Put it this way: a common prize jolly within the company is going out to see a Florida launch. Nobody but nobody has ever asked to accompany the launch to Kourou.

        4. Zolko Silver badge

          Re: If ESA was smart

          lots of cheap launches in quick succession

          I don't know how that'll work out in real life, but it would not help a bit for large missions like going to the Moon or Mars or beyond. These cheap launches in quick succession are only good for junk satellites, and I don't think that that's Humanity's best future.

          Then you'll talk about Starship ... and I'll answer you that Tesla is loosing money on every car they make, and they're profitable only because of subsidies by governments and other car manufacturers through a carbon-market : if that's Musk's way of doing business, I don't think it has any future.

          So fugget about SpaceX and (re-)develop serious European launch capabilities.

        5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: If ESA was smart

          "No one comes close to SpaceX for lots of cheap launches in quick succession landing back at the launch site, or nearby. Nobody."

          Is there even a need for a rocket factory near the intended launch site when your rockets and bootsers can land at a different landing site than that from which up-go'ed. You could even save money by doing a full on launch and then "simply" landing where you next need it :-)

          In reality, of course it depends on how much checking and refurbishment is needed after each launch and you still need the non-return parts to be shipped to the launch site. Starship may "just" need the catching arms and fuel supply at the new launch site.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: If ESA was smart

        According to the EU website, the following places are part of the EU:

        French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion Island and Saint-Martin (France), Azores and Madeira (Portugal), and the Canary Islands (Spain).

      4. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: If ESA was smart

        Also - French Guyana is in the EU, and has the Euro as currency, and a French passport.

        Ha - just seen the above! But I added a few extras.

    2. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: If ESA was smart

      From purely the perspective of launch capability at lowest cost, inviting SpaceX to French Guiana (perhaps to replace the Soyuz facilities) would be better than trying to come up with a facility in Europe; where you have massive safety problems launching East; even over the Med. Just too many population centres. Polar orbits from Europe make some sense - hence British moves to try and create such facilities.

      From the point of view of pork farming for Europe's supply chain, multiple aerospace industries contributing to Ariane 5 and 6 might have something to say about inviting SpaceX into anywhere. Adding middlemen would only add cost so that isn't going to work either.

      I seriously doubt Ariane 6 can be made competitive on raw price of payload to orbit; and reliability on SpaceX is already comparable to Ariane 5's reputation. If you're a commercial operator, you're looking at that risk/reward combo I am sure. Ariane 6 relegated to payloads of national interest does not sound like a viable route for that to become cost competitive.

      In many ways ESA is better off focussing on high-tech satellites and orbital vehicles rather than the relatively low-tech and saturated booster market.

      Competing in the launcher space could be argued to be an insurance policy I suppose; we have seen what happens when you depend on an external supplier that turns hostile. But otherwise I find little merit in chasing that tech.

  2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Mixed blessings

    The private part of the public/private partnership that funds Ariane 6 based their investment on getting returns from commercial missions. When Falcon 9 ate those l[a]unches there was panic about the financial viability of Ariane 6. Bob Smith rescued the project by screwing up New Glenn so badly that Jeff had to buy Kuiper launches from everyone else (except SpaceX). With Ariane 6 brought back from the brink, the Eurpean Large Logistical Lander has a launch vehicle again. E3L will get 1500kg to the Moon and 15kg back again.

    If Bob had not come to the rescue, think of what else could be done with the money instead. NASA has bought two rides to the Moon and back on Starship HLS for $3B. Bob has helped out again by advocating US funding for a "competitor" to Starship that will cost at least $6B and has under 5% of the payload capacity of a Starship. NASA will not have the funding to build any payloads in the 100,000kg range that Starship can take to the Moon (and back). That $3B is mostly R&D. We do not have a direct price for a Starship HLS ride but we can get an estimate from Dear Moon. Plan A for Dear Moon was a crew Dragon launched on a Falcon Heavy - probably about $250M (based on prices for Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Crew Dragon). Plan B will send Starship (not HLS) around the Moon, probably at a lower cost to SpaceX.

    ESA could fund Starship sized payloads and have them delivered to the Moon for something like $100M-$200M. They would be able to achieve things that NASA could not because whatever funding NASA gets will be earmarked by congress to the companies with the loudest lobbyists. On the other hand it looks like ESA has exactly the same problem: the Terrae Novae road map reads like a "jobs" program advert aimed at politicians.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Mixed blessings

      Except for Apollo, ALL the government space programs are jobs programs, not exploration programs.

      Apollo was a public relations program.

      That's why SpaceX has been able to accomplish so much. It has goals of proving new tech, not how much make-work it can use to employ how many people in how many companies in how many states/nations.

      Pisses me off when people go "oh we don't need to go back to the Moon, we've already BEEN THERE"

      "Being there" is not the point. The point is to explore and discover more stuff and learn things.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: Mixed blessings

        ALL the government space programs are jobs programs, not exploration programs.

        Except the Chinese one, who is consistent and planned on long term.

      2. Zolko Silver badge

        Re: Mixed blessings

        SpaceX has been able to accomplish so much

        they have managed to send people into low-earth orbit on kerosen-fueld rocket engines. Russians have done that more 1/2 centory ago. Apart from good propaganda, SpaceX didn't achieve anything that hadn't been done before. Even the re-usable part of it is dwarfed by what the Space-Shuttle did.

        Now, if they really make it to the Moon with their Starship, I'll stand corrected.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Mixed blessings

          "SpaceX didn't achieve anything that hadn't been done before. Even the re-usable part of it is dwarfed by what the Space-Shuttle did."

          I'd not go quite that far. The shuttle was impressive for passenger and payload capacity, but it's actual reusability was questionable, in terms of the SRBs and the external tank, not to mention the engine rebuilds etc. In terms of amount of hardware per launch, SpaceX probably bring back less of the vehicle total but the reusability of what does come back seems to be far more efficient. When Starship flies, it's looking like near total re-usability with a far larger payload and passenger capacity, albeit without the coolness factor of a "space plane" landing. On the other hand, it does have the coolness of 1950's SciFi tail landing rockets :-)

          1. adam 40 Silver badge

            Re: Mixed blessings

            The Shuttle was needed by the military to stick up lots of hubbles - pointing at Earth, looking at YOU.

            Probably why the Hubble mirror was out, it was optimised for focussing 300 miles, not infinity.

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Hitch a ride

    > ESA will not be averse to international partnerships going forwards.

    For an outfit that is 60 years behind the leaders in human-rated launch vehicles, I would say that is a given.

    The most logical approach is to license SpaceX tech based at Kourou

  4. Potemkine! Silver badge

    So may be the lesson learned: Europe has to be independent for its space program, from the launcher to the payload.

    What lacks is a long-term vision, with a carefully planned strategy and well-defined steps. That must not be easy with politicians at the helms and moving budgets.

  5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I remember ATV. They produced Pipkins.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      And The Golden Shot. Anne Aston in gold hot pants. MMmmmmmm!

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