Europe gets a space policy
Defence or exploration?
The European Union has officially got a space policy, an essential item for any aspiring superpower.
The document talks a lot about the importance of space as an inspirational tool to get youngsters into science and engineering, and it mentions the need for pan-European coordination of space efforts to maximise research gains.
But, as with the equivalent document produced by the US, it is far more about military advantage than moon rocks (albeit it a little less overtly territorial).
According to the official announcement from the European Space Agency (ESA), the policy has been designed to provide a stronger Europe in space "better equipped and better coordinated to face the future needs of its citizens". It promises "a wider strategic scope to address new challenges, including the areas of security and defence space programmes, and space as an added dimension to the EU's external relations".
What this really boils down to is, "we have to have a space policy, because space technology is inextricably linked with a military edge".
That is, intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. The technology behind these rockets, which allow the owner to send nukes pretty much anywhere they like, is the foundation of the technology that allows a nation, or coalition of nations, to send satellites and so forth into space.
If you can do space, you can by definition nuke your neighbour - provided you have some nukes anyway. So when a space policy talks about strategic advantage, or "increased synergy between civil and defence space programmes", it means the writers want a place in the international nuclear power club.
The European Council has passed a resolution on the policy in an almost inpenetrable document, which you can try reading here (pdf).
This makes several references to the importance of emerging satellite navigation and communications technologies, and the importance of Europe having a network capable of providing GPS-type coverage that is independent of the US GPS system, although it does stress that this must be under civil control.
As for access to space, the Council of Ministers says it is vitally important that Europe "maintain an independent, reliable and cost-effective access to space".
In terms of space technology, the council stresses the importance of "a targeted approach for the development of strategic components, for which the dependency of European Industry on international suppliers should be avoided".
These things are all useful for exploring the solar system, sure, but they are even more important if you want to be able to disagree with NATO anytime soon.
Of course, it is about exploration too, and it would be doing the Euro-boffins a disservice if this were not mentioned. The policy emphasises the importance of "proactive" ESA involvement in the international space station, and gives ESA a pat on the back for the work it has done over the last 30 years. ®