Johann-Dietrich Wörner (ESA):
Off to Mars and Mercury
In this interview, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Director General, describes the mandate of the agency and Luxembourg’s added value in the sector of space mining and the captivating projects ESA is undertaking.
Can you describe the ESA in a few words?
ESA is an intergovernmental organisation. It is no part of the European Union and act as an independent Body composed of 22 member states that have accepted the 1975 convention on the establishment of the agency as a national law.
ESA is oriented towards space in two ways. The first is through mandatory programmes. All Member States contribute to these programmes on a scale based on their Gross Domestic Product. They include the agency’s basic activities - studies on future projects, technology research, shared technical investments, information systems and training programmes. The second orientation is through optional programmes where Member States can decide on their participation on a financing percentage basis. They include earth observation, telecommunications, satellite navigation, space transportation, science, robotic and Human exploration including and involvement in the International Space Station.
« BepiColombo is a fascinating project as it the first ever mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun »
What opportunities did you see in Luxembourg for ESA to partner with the country?
Each of the 22 member states shares their added value in the ESA programmes. Luxembourg is particularly active in ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) an initiative that aims to translate research and development programmes into concrete and viable commercial products. Luxembourg is also a driving force in the sector of space mining and plays a crucial role as dialogue facilitator among member states. With its help, ESA will launch a feasibility assessment and technical maturity study of asteroids exploration and utilisation.
What are the challenges?
BepiColombo is a fascinating project - launch in 2018 - as it is the first ever mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. Reaching the planet is a big step, but remaining on it for a year - the spacecraft will be exposed to temperatures of 350 °C - and gathering data constitutes the real challenge. It implies significant technical hurdles that our teams have been hard at work to overcome. In 2020, the second phase of the joint ESA and the Russian space agency project ExoMars will be launched. It is an atmospheric observation mission that will include a relay station and the deployment of a rover. Our objective is to look for methane and potential signs of life on Mars. ESA keeps on working on its launcher Ariane Vega. Europe needs to remain a relevant player in an increasingly competitive international environment. Unlike other small launchers, it can deliver multiple payloads in varied formats. Vega will therefore be ideally placed to answer the changing market needs.