July 8th, 2011
05:10 PM GMT
London (CNN) - As the United States puts its Space Shuttle programme to bed with one last blast off, Europe is putting more emphasis on exploiting what we already know about space and the technology that has been developed.
At last week’s UK Space Conference in Coventry, lectures focused on increasing investment in telecommunications and navigation systems, where the European space industry now has 40% of the worldwide commercial market.
"We have more ideas than money available, this is for sure,” said Jean Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency. “There is an increase in investment in Europe.”
In Europe, he continued, “we are putting much more priority on knowledge and services to the citizens than exploration. But exploration is the dream part of space activities.”
Realising dreams will be a collaborative effort, and could include revisiting Mars to learn about the effects of climate change, and search for the existence of any organic life form.
Astrium, the space arm of EADS and parent company of Airbus, has contributed $1.4 billion to the ExoMars programme that will use autonomous robots to roam and collect data in 2018. This mobile laboratory is a partnership between Europe and the United States.
"There's always a question of the balance between value for money and discovery – I think we've got the balance about right on this program," said Colin Paynter, CEO, Astrium.
"We're going forward with NASA so we're not completely asking the European taxpayer [to fund projects]. We're doing it under a collaborative scope and I think the science from this will be incredibly valuable over the next 20 years.”
Value for money is very much on the agenda.
If a jumbo jet was thrown away after each flight aviation would be pretty expensive – yet this is the current situation. After a satellite is deployed in space, the rocket is discarded.
Reaction Engines in the UK hopes to change that by 2020 with its Skylon Spaceplane. "I do believe we are starting a new industry here" said Alan Bond, Managing Director of Reraction Engines. "We have come up with a rocket which is re-useable. So that having done its job, it lands and a few hours later it can do the same thing all over again.”
He continued, “what we're looking to try to do is to get to airline-type operations where different operators compete for the traffic."
Reusability to keep costs down is also key for Virgin Galactic. "People have been dreaming about this moment when private firms can open up space and radically transform humanity’s relationship with the cosmos,” said George Whitesides, CEO and President of Virgin Galactic.
"The next phase is to develop these new technologies particularly like re-usability. What we're trying to do is bring that re-usability to the industry through things like Virgin Galactic."
Space tourists will take off from Virgin Galactic's spaceport in New Mexico for $200,000 each, instead of the current price in Russia of $50 million.
According to Whitesides, over the next five years "tens of thousands of people will be able to become astronauts with Virgin Galactic."
If the U.S. government grants an export license, Virgin Galactic hopes to open a second spaceport in Abu Dhabi. Abaar Investments, which bought a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic in 2009, is based in Abu Dhabi.
"It's exciting because what you can see is not just people going up and down, but some day people going point to point – you could go half way around the world in 45 minutes or something like that,” Whitesides said. “That's a little bit down the road but I think it is very real. And with the evolution of this technology I think we could eventually get there."
Point to point space travel, sight-seeing in space and roaming around Mars – this is the future, and not necessarily the final frontier.
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