European leaders should use a summit planned for 2022 to figure out exactly how to compete with China and the United States in space, the European Space Agency’s Director General Josef Aschbacher told POLITICO.
“The U.S. and China will not stop investing in space, they have identified it as a strategic element,” said Aschbacher, stressing that Europe needs a clear investment plan for space projects, covering everything from developing reusable rocket launchers to plans for a secure communication satellite network promoted by the European Commission, along with potential new missions to the moon and Mars.
“Europe has to realize that if we are not investing, we will be left out of this race,” Aschbacher said.
The agency plans to convene leaders from its 22-member countries — many of which are also EU states — to decide on a detailed political response to growing investments in space projects from the U.S. and China, he said.
Aschbacher said without concerted new investment Europe risks being left behind just like it was on internet technologies and artificial intelligence. “Europe has the expertise — clearly — but they missed the opportunity,” said Aschbacher. “I would like politicians to understand that — and how much money is needed to make it happen.”
Meanwhile, Aschbacher said close to 10,000 people had already applied for the ESA’s latest astronaut recruitment program, with the deadline for applications extended to June 18.