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Developing a European autonomous and strategic access to space

On the 16th European Space Conference Mr. Christian Hauglie-Hanssen, Director General of the Norwegian Space Agency, will join the panel discussion “Ensuring the development of a European ecosystem for autonomous and strategic access to space”.

Written by
Berit Ellingsen
January 17, 2024
Launch from Andøya Space in Northern Norway to polar orbit.
Launch from Andøya Space in Northern Norway to polar orbit.Illustration: Andøya Space

The 16th European Space Conference is the annual space conference of the European Commission. This year it will be held in Brussels from the 23rd to the 24th of January. 

On the second day of the conference Mr. Christian Hauglie-Hanssen, Director General of the Norwegian Space Agency, will join the panel discussion “Ensuring the development of a European ecosystem for autonomous and strategic access to space”.

Why is European autonomous access to space important?

- The question of European autonomy is not a new one, but goes back all the way to the 1950s when Europe was consolidating after WW2. And since then, Europe has struggled to define what autonomy actually means, Christian Hauglie-Hanssen says.

Ensuring European autonomous access to space is important for critical space infrastructure such as Galileo, the European Global Navigation Satellite System, and Copernicus, EU’s program for Earth Observation, as well as for European research and development.

- Autonomous and independent access to space is something not only Europe and the Unites States are developing, but several other nations, such as China, India and Japan, says Hauglie-Hanssen.

In addition to an autonomous access to space, it is also important for Europe to develop and have access to an industry and value chain that can supply and utilize this capability. 

- Simply purchasing spots on launchers or launch opportunities is not enough, Hauglie-Hanssen says.

Christian Hauglie-Hanssen, Director General at the Norwegian Space Agency.

Mr. Christian Hauglie-Hanssen, Director General of the Norwegian Space Agency.

Photo: NOSA

Needs both governmental and commercial support

The current model for developing launchers in Europe have had its challenges in developing the Vega-C launcher for small to medium payloads, and Ariane 6, the new launcher for large and heavy payloads, in time.

Both launchers are delayed, with the first launch of Ariane 6 set to the middle of 2024. With Europe currently having no independent launch capabilities, including no commercial launch capabilities, this delay will be significant. 

- European commercial competitiveness on the launch market will at least partly depend on the number of launches it may attract, and in all commercial endeavors volume does count, says Hauglie-Hanssen. 

He nevertheless has a strong belief that it will be possible to develop sound commercial services, and bring in private investors to obtain a good mix of governmental and private financial support for European launches.

- The international trend is moving in the direction of having governmental and institutional actors, as well as commercial companies, develop and offer launches as an independent service. This is something Norway supports as well, Hauglie-Hanssen says.

Illustrasjon av en Ariane 6.

Ariane 6 is the new European launcher for large and heavy payloads.

Illustration: ESA-D. Ducros

An ESA competition for developing a new launch vehicle

At the ESA-EU Ministerial Space Summit in November 2023, establishing a competition for developing a launcher partly financed by ESA and partly by the European space industry, was discussed.

- I think establishing such a competition as a program element within ESA, with all the discussions that would entail, would be an important step in the right direction for a more autonomous European access to space, Hauglie-Hanssen says.

The type and size of the launcher would be decided by the competition and the needs of the users and the market which the launcher would be directed at.

- Availability of external venture capital funding will most likely be a key factor to achieve commercial goals, says Hauglie-Hanssen.

Norway – a reliable and robust infrastructure for space

Norway has been a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) since 1987. This membership and its opportunities for contracts, for example for deliveries to the launcher Ariane 5, have been useful for both research and the development of a space industry in Norway.

- The ESA membership has enabled Norway to build key competencies and industrial capacity to compete for deliveries to space projects in general. Thus, Norway has an industry sector that can offer production services also for new launchers, through ongoing processes within ESA, says Hauglie-Hanssen.

He emphasizes that Norway is, and wants to continue to be, a real contributor to the development of Europe’s space capabilities. The country has capacities that are both interesting and important for Europe, for example the SvalSat downlinking station on Svalbard and reference stations for Galileo.

- Norway is a stable country that can offer a reliable and robust space infrastructure. Norway wishes to continue supporting the EU programmes that we are already a part of, as well as the new programmes, such as Secure Connectivity (Iris2) and the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme, Hauglie-Hanssen says.

Den første oppskytingen fra Andøya Spaceport blir for det europeiske firmaet Isar Aerospace.

Launch from Andøya Spaceport in Northern Norway.

Illustration: Andøya Spaceport / Isar Aerospace

Andøya Space, a strategic capacity for Europe

Today, the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway is responsible for approving and licensing procedures and regulations connected with space launches on Norwegian soil. 

- Norway can contribute to the development of common regulatory frameworks and approaches for space launches, which will be part of having a robust space European infrastructure and autonomous Europan access to space, says Hauglie-Hanssen.

Andøya Space’s newly opened spaceport for lofting small satellites into polar orbits in Norway, is offering commercial launches. 

- Andøya Space is a strategically important asset, by creating launch redundancy in Europe together with other spaceports, and by expanding the market to governmental actors, including the defense sector, as well as non-European commercial customers, Hauglie-Hanssen concludes.