July 8th, 2011
05:10 PM GMT
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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.



soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Reg

    Windows of opportunity are opening up, and Europe being the eternal opportunist, is quick to splash back onto the scene.

    July 11, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  2. Max360

    Go Europe!

    July 11, 2011 at 6:46 am |
  3. Mr Spock

    What is Europe going to do that hasn't been covered by the US or Russia/USSR ?

    July 11, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  4. ToReg

    "Europe being the eternal opportunist" What does it mean ?

    July 11, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  5. Dieter

    Welcome all Euro-trash supporters. You are the same people who cheered the Concord and yuppie around in your BMW's thinking they make you more intelectual and sophisticated.

    July 11, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  6. JavaRec

    Im gonna agree Go europe :)

    July 11, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  7. Kenny

    When talking about Europe and Virgin Galactic, don't forget http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaceport_Sweden where Virgin Galatic also is planning for space tourism.

    http://www.space.com/3395-virgin-galactic-strikes-deal-swedish-government.html

    July 11, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  8. TreadOnYou

    At least we might not have to rely on the Russians.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  9. Mr Spock

    @TreadONYou Last heard, Russia is a part of Europe.

    July 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  10. TreadOnYou

    @Mr Spock – If we have to rely on Europe to get into space I would prefer the Western Europeans to the Russians. It's the Western Europeans who have grown to dominate the commercial space market.

    @Dieter – so you don't like supersonic airliners or successful, well built and designed autos? That makes you more 'intelectual' and sophisticated? They make well designed and constructed trailers as well, perhaps that interests you?

    July 11, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  11. N76

    @DIETER – with a name like that you should be German, but based on your Euro-Hater comment you must just be a wannabe.

    @Mr Spock: The ESA (European Space Agency) was founded in 1975 and Russia is not part of it. You should be glad the Europeans are all over this otherwise you'd have to deal with Russia who as we all know can't be trusted any furtehr than they can be thrown...

    July 12, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  12. Mr Spock

    @TreadOnYou: Russia holds 40% of the world's space launches with its very reliable Proton-K boosters [and various versions of it] and constructs 20% of its spacecraft, even to the extent that the US had come to rely on Russia for several launches to the international space station, so its infrastructure, experience, and development in space science and technology much further ahead than "western" Europe.

    @N76 Russia is certainly a part of Greater Europe and was into ballistics R&D and space S&T long before ESA was in nappies.

    July 12, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  13. GreenTea

    @Mr Spock – I think you are missing the point. The only nation that can reliably put people into space now is Russia. The only other capability is Chinese. As we decline as a space power we can either rely on Russia or China, or join with Western Europe. The world is changing and if Lucy is in the sky with diamonds, she does not speak American.

    July 12, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  14. Mr Spock

    @GreenTea: Perhaps I am missing the point but I am not exactly sure what is your's ? I presume you're an American, and, if so, the US is not "declining" as a space power but merely changing gears. So lets not Bungle in the Jungle over this.

    July 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  15. winnie the pooh

    "search for the existence of any organic life form" - as opposed to un-organic life forms...

    July 13, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  16. Tim Murphy

    You can get more detail from a lecture by Alan Bond of Reaction engines at the university of Strathclyde:

    Basically the plan is to get to mach 5 as an airbreathing rocket and then switch to ordinary rocket mode using internal oxygen supplies. This avoids a lot of the intense problems of trying to use air above mach 5 and yet it has allowed the craft to get a tremendous boost from not having to carry all the oxygen it would have needed if it were only a rocket.

    There is also a great discussion on the NASA spaceflight forum with a lot of uptodate information from Reaction Engines: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=24621.330

    July 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
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