Monday, February 12, 2018

Those European Bureaucrats Subtly Sneering at Elon Musk Likely Won't Get the Last Laugh

          By Brian Orlotti

European Space Agency (ESA) Director General (DG) Johann-Dietrich "Jan" Wörner has finally come clean with a public admission that the advent of reusable rockets and new manufacturing technologies from "NewSpace" firms like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Rocket Lab poses a threat to European space leadership.

ESA DG Jan Wörner's public lecture on "Driving Space 4.0 – an enabler for Entrepreneurship and Innovation" at Tallinn University of Technology during his visit to Estonia on September 15th, 2016 and John Cleese as the French taunter in the 1975 British slapstick comedy film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." When it comes to rockets,Wörner and his ESA member nations along with their space agencies (including the Canadian Space Agency, an "associate member"), simply don't believe they need anything new or reusable. "I told them we already got one," they've said up until now, much like Cleese's character. Images c/o Youtube/ Python (Monty) Pictures.

In a February 11th, 2018 post on the ESA DG's personal blog under the title, " Europe's Move," Wörner noted severe upheavals in Europe over the 2016 UK Brexit vote, plus continuing economic and social troubles.

Then, in a prime example of how the rise of NewSpace is re-energizing global space efforts, Wörner called for “disruptive innovation,” with ESA member states contributing to finance the development of a new European reusable rocket.

In one paragraph, Wörner, in a textbook case of bureaucratic butt-protection, stated that in a 2014 ESA meeting, he had put forth reusability amongst the high-level requirements for the development of a new line of Ariane and Vega rockets (Ariane 6 and Vega C). But due to “time and cost pressure,” this requirement did not make it onto the agenda.

Wörner then, in a show of icy pragmatism, admitted that the world has changed and that Europe must consider new ideas and adapt, even as it now tastes the consequences of its slackness.

Readers of Wörner’s post could also detect the smoldering jealousy at SpaceX’s success, as shown in this passage:
One particularly powerful example is in the launcher sector, where global competition has been intensifying with the advent of very cheap systems. 
In addition, breakthrough developments from new space sector players such as reusable launchers and marketing wheezes like sending a car into space are attracting attention and increasing pressure on the public sector.
Wörner closed off his post by stating that French and German leaders are now supportive of  disruptive space technology. He quoted a Sept 26 2017 speech by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Sorbonne in which he stated, “I want to see Europe take the lead in this radical innovation revolution.”

Wörner also quoted from an agreement from Germany’s coalition government, “We are committed to maintaining the European Space Agency (ESA) as an independent international organisation and intend to strengthen it further.”

What satisfaction, what fulfillment, what joy it must be to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to be damned with faint praise by the very bureaucrats who sneered at him 15 years ago. As the NewSpace industry shines in triumph, we are reminded of the wisdom of Frank Herbert’s words.

Graphic c/o AZ Quotes.

Leaders in France and Germany have expressed their backing for more disruptive actions with, for example, French President Emmanuel Macron making multiple references in his speech at the Sorbonne on September 26th, 2017 to encourage “l’innovation de rupture” or disruptive innovation, as a major strategic priority for Europe before adding:
Je souhaite que l’Europe prenne la tête de cette révolution par l’innovation radicale. (translated as "I want to see Europe take the lead in this radical innovation revolution").
Similarly, the coalition agreement between the two political parties in Germany published in recent days provides a sound foundation for such a step:
Wir setzen uns dafür ein, die Europäische Weltraumorganisation (ESA) als eigenständige internationale Organisation zu erhalten und wollen sie weiter stärken (translated as, "we are committed to maintaining the European Space Agency (ESA) as an independent international organisation and intend to strengthen it further).
But words need to be followed up by actions. As outlined in the December 14th, 2018 EuroNews post, "Race to build Ariane 6 rocket launch pad," while most believe that the current ESA Ariane 5 rocket cannot compete with current SpaceX launchers such as the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, there are still four long years before the next launcher in the Ariane rocket family, the Ariane 6, is expected to be ready for its first launch.

Will the Ariane 6 be able to compete against SpaceX? According to Wörner, without substantial changes in design to include reusability, it likely won't.

Time to watch those sneers turn to fear.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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