Accelerating the Use of Space in Europe

The Matosinhos Manifesto puts users and citizens at the heart of Europe’s space activities, explains Josef Aschbacher.
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By Josef Aschbacher

Josef Aschbacher is Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA)

28 Jan 2022

The Earth has had so many monumental moments during its more than 4 billion years of existence, it has had so many monumental moments; so much evolution. The first human to discover how to use fire and the invention of the wheel. The first human to walk on the moon and the creation of the internet.

Earth has been witness to the formation of life, the destruction of species, advancements in technology and society and, ultimately, the regression of its own health.

Currently, we stand at a historic moment in time, with forests burning and cities flooding amid unprecedented challenges facing Europe and the wider world. Now is the moment to contribute through bold, shared ambitions to solutions - enabled by space. 

“We stand at a historic moment in time, with forests burning and cities flooding amid unprecedented challenges facing Europe and the wider world. Now is the moment to contribute through bold, shared ambitions to solutions - enabled by space”

Ambition - it’s a word I use a great deal. Ambition is what has driven humans to achieve the momentous, the impossible, the unimaginable. It is what drove Europeans to explore and cross the Atlantic to new lands and later to send the first radio signals across the same body of water.

It drove Europeans to discover penicillin, to discover the theory of general relativity, to send the first space probe to perform a detailed study of a comet, to dispatch a craft to its surface and - in a spectacular finale - land on the comet itself.

Ambition - our planet’s youth are bursting with ambition (mixed with disappointment, anger, and a smudge of hope, admittedly and, well, understandably), as we saw recently on the streets of Glasgow - and beyond - during COP26. It’s been said that “Ambition is the path to success.

Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in”; so we must move from ambition to persistence and act on what was laid out in Agenda 2025 (the strategy I developed to raise Europe’s game in space when becoming Director General of the ESA) and deliver tangible, programmatic and systematic commitments that create dialogue, inspiration, and change.

This is precisely what the Matosinhos Manifesto, the resolution adopted unanimously late last year at the ESA’s Intermediate Ministerial Meeting in Portugal, does. It represents strength in numbers; the ability of a united Europe to deliver services to its citizens by accelerating the use of space for the betterment and advancement of its people and of the planet. A Europe that puts the user and citizen at the centre of its space activities.

The Manifesto is centred around three initiatives, called ‘Accelerators’. These are designed to speed up the use of space to solve today’s biggest challenges, with a particular urgency to start implementing the first. This focuses on using space for a green future to better understand the current state of Earth, to develop scenarios and solutions for sustainable life on the planet and to contribute effectively to achieving climate neutrality. 

“The Matosinhos Manifesto represents strength in numbers; the ability of a united Europe to deliver services to its citizens by accelerating the use of space for the betterment and advancement of its people and of the planet”

Then we must move forward from studying, observing and understanding the planet towards action based on the deep knowledge that we gain. This is where the second Accelerator comes into play; development of a rapid and resilient crisis response system to support stakeholders act decisively on crises facing Europe.

However, we cannot focus on the first two Accelerators without ensuring their protection. This is the role of the third Accelerator, the protection of space assets, namely the safeguarding and protection of our assets from space debris and space weather threats.

Beyond this, we also need our own “giant leap” moment to inspire young Europeans to become more inquisitive about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics, so that we can continue to strengthen and enhance these fields for future generations.

Inspirational missions will help drive innovation in the new space economy that is beginning to take shape. The Inspirators: missions that seek to catapult Europe’s position as a global leader in space technology, innovation and deep-space scientific exploration to promote commercialisation, a modern, forward-looking European entrepreneurial landscape, multilateral cooperation, education, the development of human capital and STEM.

Think missions to icy moons to uncover secrets of the origins of life or space exploration that takes Europe’s astronauts beyond the International Space Station.

The passing of the Matosinhos Manifesto has created the necessary momentum to reach beyond our ambitions and jump-start into action. The next steps and decisions will be formulated and taken at the European Space Summit and the ESA Council Meeting at ministerial level, both to be held later this year. 

To learn more about the Accelerators and the Matosinhos Manifesto, please visit vision.esa.int

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