Will the Europeans Build Their Own Human Spaceflight System?

Today the ESA relies upon the United States and Russia for transporting their astronauts to and from space. The question of Europe needing their own autonomous human spaceflight capability (or not) is an ongoing policy topic of discussion. At the February 16, 2022 European Space Summit, the Association of Space Explorers Europe (ASE) put the world spotlight on the topic with their publication of European Astronauts’ Manifesto On The Occasion Of The European Space Summit. The association represents over 45 European astronauts and cosmonauts. Their manifesto strongly advocates for Europe to develop their own human spaceflight transportation system.

ASE asserts that Europe is under-investing in space exploration, noting that Europe’s GDP is equivalent to the United States, but it’s space exploration budget is less than 1/10 that of the United States. They emphasize that Europe must take a leadership role exploring the Moon and Mars so that Europe can benefit from the strategic and economic benefits. ASE warns that depending solely upon other nations’ human spaceflight transportation services will put Europe in a position of weakness, dependency and strategic disadvantage.

The association makes the case for Europe to invest in the strategic areas of human spaceflight transportation and exploration. They argue that such investment is necessary to: inspire Europeans; develop European space industry capabilities; reduce dependency on foreign suppliers; grow Europe’s economy; and ensure Europe’s needs and values will be a priority.

There is strong support from industry leaders to develop autonomous human spaceflight capabilities for Europe.

We have the expertise, we can build human-rated spacecraft. But if we are not investing, we will be thrown out of the race.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General

One of the actions coming out of the European Space Summit was the mandating of Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, to establish a Human Space Exploration Advisory Group. The advisory group is tasked to provide a progress report to the ESA Council of Ministers in November 2022.

Europe has a long-standing interest in human spaceflight systems. They have researched human spaceflight systems in the past, including: Hermes Spaceplane, Assured Crew Return Vehicle, Advanced Crew Transportation System. Unfortunately, so far none of the research has led to implementation. Maybe this time it will be different.

Additional information for the curious

Europe and Human Spaceflight: New Context, New Strategy?