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Europe should focus on commercializing space, says ESA chief

The European Space Agency values carrier rocket partnership with Russia and will continue using Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft in the coming years, according to the director general
Director General of the European Space Agency Josef Aschbacher EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN
Director General of the European Space Agency Josef Aschbacher

PARIS, April 7. /TASS/. Josef Aschbacher, new director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), intends to achieve greater economic output from space activities and is gearing up to transform the agency, he said in an interview with TASS after assuming the office.

"There are few concrete activities that are necessary to do <…>, we need to certainly focus on commercialization. It is a big topic all around the world but also in Europe. I would like to reinforce the commercial aspects of space in addition to the institutional aspects," the ESA chief noted. Aschbacher added that he wants to discuss this topic on the high level with member states. The security sphere and closer ties with the European Union are among his priorities. "I would like to transform ESA as an agency to be more modern, faster, leaner and more efficient to meet the challenges of the next decade," he pointed out.

The director general will soon present his Agenda 2025 where the organization’s priorities and aims will be set out in detail.

Space exploration

Europe should ramp up its efforts in space exploration and should be guided by the examples set by Russia, the United States and China, the ESA director general said.

"I would like Europe to be a strong nation in space," he said. "The Agenda 2025 is focusing on how Europe can increase its space activities, being inspired also by space activities of Russia, the United States, China and other big space nations. I think that the European decisionmakers should really look at Europe in the context of its economic strength but also in relation to other space powers to be and remain a strong partner in space because only as a strong partner you are accepted and respected. This is what I want."

Partnership with Russia

The European Space Agency values carrier rocket partnership with Russia and will continue using Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft in the coming years. However, the agency plans to focus its efforts on domestic research, Josef Aschbacher told TASS.

"The launch vehicle is actually another great example of ESA’s cooperation with Russia. As you know, Arianespace has been successfully operating the Soyuz rocket from Kourou [spaceport] for almost ten years. It’s a very effective program and we would like to continue this cooperation in the near future," he said.

At the same time, when asked about the possible use of new Russian rockets such as Soyuz-5 or Angara, the ESA chief noted that the organization is currently working on a whole range of flights of European Ariane 6 and Vega-C. "Of course, we will focus on the exploitation of these launchers after their maiden flights which are planned for next year. Certainly, this will be the focus to make sure that the use of these rockets is sustainable and cost-efficient," Aschbacher explained.

Ariane 6’s maiden launch

The European Space Agency expects to conduct the first launch of Ariane 6, new-generation carrier rocket, in the second half of 2022, according to Josef Aschbacher.

"The maiden flight of Ariane 6 is scheduled for next year, we are currently discussing the matter. There is no clear date yet, but it will most likely happen around the second half of next year. We will decide within a couple of weeks," he said.

Ariane 6 is a new generation of the Ariane family carrier rockets. It will be manufactured in two modifications, light Ariane 62 and heavier Ariane 64. Initially, the first launch was supposed to take place in 2020. However, ArianeGroup CEO Andre-Hubert Roussel said in July that the event would be postponed until 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic. In late October, ESA informed that the Ariane 6 launch is planned for the second quarter of 2022.

At the same time, the agency is engaged in works to create the Vega-C and Vega-E carrier rockets which would use engines produced in Europe for all stages. The first flight of Vega-C is planned for June 2021.


Josef Aschbacher assumed the office of the ESA director general on March 1, 2021. He succeeded Professor Jan Worner who served as the head of the agency from July 2015 to February 2021.

Aschbacher graduated from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He joined the ESA in 1990. In 2006, he headed the ESA’s Copernicus Program. Aschbacher was appointed ESA director of earth observation programs in 2016.