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Europeans are tired of being a satellite of the Americans

The launch to Mars of the Mars Express spacecraft and the giant Galileo satellite array leave no room for doubt: the Europeans are beginning to challenge the American hegemony in space

Uriel Brizon

European Beagle 2 Lab. Like NASA's robots, it is designed to reach Mars

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For the first time in thirty years, a new space race may be starting - Europe is challenging the absolute hegemony of the United States in the field. About two weeks ago, the foreign ministers of the 15 member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) gathered in Paris and pledged to finance a large-scale investment in Europe's space industry.
In the United States, European activism is received with mixed feelings. The American defense establishment does fear the loss of absolute hegemony in space, but researchers and civilian officials express hope that the new competitive atmosphere will help shake up the American space industry and put an end to the paralysis, austerity, and lack of creativity that gripped it.

After the Columbia shuttle disaster, sharp criticism against the American space agency was heard for the first time. In an unprecedentedly harsh article, published a few days ago on the SpaceDaily website, Phillip Chapman, who was a NASA employee for years and participated as an astronaut in the Apollo 14 mission, attacked the space agency's activities in recent decades. According to him, failed management, irrelevant interests and a wrong conception that holds that the public only expresses interest in grandiose missions with high investment, caused a stagnation and even a retreat in humanity's race to space.

Chapman claims that man's ability to reach space is less today compared to the seventies. "In 1969 we landed on the moon," he wrote, "but today we have no practical ability to take humans beyond low Earth orbit." The predictions according to which the space shuttle program would allow cheap and safe access to space were wrong - it turned out that the shuttles are cumbersome, expensive to use and dangerous. According to Chapman, the International Space Station is a huge waste of resources, costing tens of billions of dollars, which yields only about ninety minutes of scientific research per day.

According to Chapman's calculation, the cumulative budget of the American space agency since the moon landing is about 450 billion dollars. This sum, he claims, could have yielded enormous achievements, a permanent human presence in space and on the moon, the study of other bodies in the solar system and even a manned mission to Mars; But these goals were missed. The competitiveness and the enormous motivation of the inter-block confrontation period during the Cold War led to enormous achievements of the space industry. It is possible that a renewed atmosphere of confrontation, this time with the European Union, will return this industry to the lines of creativity and innovation.

Recently, there are indeed increasing signs that an intercontinental competition is taking shape, the likes of which has not been seen since the struggle for hegemony in space between the USA and the Soviet Union. The consolidation of Europe as a united force and the expansion of cooperation within it means that the Europeans see themselves as facing the Americans on an equal footing. This is evident in the field of space - both in the industrial context and in the research context.

The most striking example of the desire of the Europeans to compete with the Americans in space is the Galileo project. Last year, the institutions of the European Union decided to authorize the European Space Agency to start working on the establishment of a satellite array that will be an alternative to the American GPS array, the satellite network that allows each user to locate his exact location on the Earth by using a small receiver. This is a huge project, which includes the launch of thirty satellites, which according to initial estimates, its total cost is about five billion euros. The willingness of the Europeans to invest so many resources to produce a system that is not much different from the existing American system, which provides the service free of charge to all, emphasizes their desire for independence in everything related to space activities. The Europeans claim that the new system will be more reliable than the existing system, but even in official publications they fail to hide their true ambition: freedom from dependence on the Americans.

Last week, the Europeans launched the Mars Express spacecraft. The spacecraft, which was launched by a Russian-made rocket, contains two components: a satellite that will orbit Mars and conduct experiments and observations, and a scientific assembly called Beagle 2 that will land on the surface of the planet and conduct a series of experiments in order to find out if there are Microscopic living mars.

Mars Express will reach Mars in December. In January, two American spacecraft will reach the planet, carrying laboratories. Unlike the Europeans, whose budget was much lower, the Americans built their laboratories on robots capable of moving on the surface of Mars. But apart from this fact, the two missions are similar: the instruments and experiments planned by the Europeans and the Americans are remarkably similar in their purpose - searching for signs of microscopic life - and in their capabilities. Along with the cooperation between the research institutions in Europe and the USA, it is clear that both parties are interested in achieving the important scientific discovery before the competitors.

At the meeting of the representatives of the member states of the European Space Agency, two weeks ago, it was decided to focus on encouraging the rocket industry and the means of launch. The flagship of the European space industry today is the new Ariane rocket (Ariane-5 ECA). The rocket, made by French industry, is capable of launching a payload of about ten tons to an extremely high orbit. In the last test of this model, in December 2002, there was a malfunction that caused the failure of the mission, but according to the European Space Agency it was only a single point failure. The company that produces the rocket, Arianespace, will receive assistance from the European Space Agency, which will also invest in cooperation with the Russian Space Agency, under which Soyuz-type rockets will be launched from Europe's equatorial launch site in French Guiana. The move is intended to guarantee the Europeans independent launch capabilities for different ranges and for various types of cargo.

The future plans of the European Space Agency are particularly ambitious and include unmanned research missions to various bodies in the solar system, the launch of several Earth satellites, the launch of crews to the International Space Station as well as the planning of a manned mission to Mars. The Europeans are also investing a lot of resources in developing new technologies of spacecraft engines and space vehicles. The agency's website even presents a plan for the development of an electric propulsion system, which should allow future spaceships to move at speeds 5 to 15 times greater than the speeds possible today.

They knew about space programs outside the USA

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