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Bruno Le Maire: Europe needs ‘unwavering unity’ against China, US in space

PARIS — Europe has to boost its strategic autonomy in space to compete with the likes of China and the United States, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday.

Speaking as ministers from the European Space Agency’s 22 member countries convene in Paris to firm up a record €18.5 billion budget running for between three and five years depending on the program, Le Maire said that capitals needed to pay for “autonomous access to space.”

“There must be a single Europe, a single European space policy and unwavering unity to face Chinese ambitions and American ambitions,” said Le Maire.

While Europe has its own satellite systems to monitor climate change and provide geolocation services, it has no capability to send its astronauts to space or offer commercial satellite communication services, for example.

The summit, being held next to the Eiffel Tower at the Grand Palais Éphémère, comes as NASA’s Artemis test flight rounds the moon as part of a trial run for sending humans back to the lunar surface this decade, and with the future of the International Space Station in doubt.

Talks at the two-day conference will cover funding for everything from research projects to weather satellites, such as Aeolus which can monitor global wind flow, along with a Mars mission and extra cash for a secure communications satellite system proposed by the European Commission and targeted at competing with Elon Musk’s Starlink.

But the haggling comes amid soaring inflation and a cost-of-living crisis which puts public space spending in focus.

“There is a price to pay for independence and we stand ready to pay the price,” said Le Maire of his government’s intention to meet new funding requests from ESA, a non-EU organization but with overlapping membership.

France is typically Europe’s aerospace leader but during the last ESA summit in 2019 Germany overtook it as the largest single contributor to the budget.

Before the summit got underway on Tuesday, Le Maire, and his German and Italian counterparts Robert Habeck and Adolfo Urso, agreed to help finance the delayed European rocket system Ariane 6, along with Vega C, which are launched from French Guiana.

The deal heads off differences between the three countries over how best to develop rocket tech, with fierce competition for commercial and governmental satellite launches and an end to cooperation with Russia’s Roscosmos because of the war in Ukraine.

“This is a very good starting point for Europe … and for the space ambitions that we all want to share and move on over the next years,” said Le Maire.

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