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European Aerospace Aims for the Moon

DW staff (sp)
September 16, 2005

Leading German aerospace companies have urged the creation of an unmanned European space station on the moon, warning that Europe could otherwise lose out to other nations in the race for space exploration and research.

This would be a dream come true for European aerospace

During a conference in the northern German city of Bremen hosted by the German Aerospace Industries Association (DGLR) on Thursday, leading lights from the German aerospace industry and representatives from the fields of science and space technology agreed that European space research had to focus on the moon if it wanted to remain competitive.

"The moon is the next worthy goal," said astronaut Manfred Messerschmid during the symposium, adding that the celestial body is only 1,000 hours away from the earth, unlike Mars which takes a 1,000 days to reach.

The companies also urged the creation of an unmanned European research station on the moon. They said in a statement that a gigantic long wave radio telescope would be installed on the back of the moon by 2015 to research a completely unknown side of the universe.

The aerospace firms added that they hoped the European Space Agency (ESA) would shoulder the costs of the project which is estimated at around 1 billion euros ($1.23 billion). ESA, which is headquartered in Paris, is expected to debate the issue during its next conference, in December.

Europe could lag in space exploration

ESA: Aurora
ESA's Aurora mission will explore the Solar SystemImage: ESA

ESA's Aurora project, which began in 2001, does include plans for a manned Mars mission as well as a manned mission to the moon. ESA wants to head to Mars and the moon, but not before 2033 and 2024 respectively.

That's too late for the scientists, researchers and industry representatives assembled in Bremen on Thursday, who stressed that Europe had to do more, and quickly, in space research if it wanted to keep up with other nations.

Manfred Fuchs, head of the Bremen-based aerospace company OHB said that other countries had long been involved in missions to the moon. He criticized the fact that the issue unfortunately "isn't the first priority" in Europe and warned that Germany, as the biggest country in Europe, couldn't afford to sit back while countries such as the US, Russia, Japan, China and India planned and realized their own space programs.

Money the biggest problem

Most scientists and industry representatives admitted that the biggest stumbling block to European aerospace research is the paucity of funds.

Evert Dudok, president of EADS Space Transportation, said that a central problem in Germany was the slim budget for space research. That amount plus the funds Germany receives from ESA add up to just about 700 million euros, Dudok pointed out and added that the budget for this year had already been completely allocated. "We demand a raise of 15 percent or 100 million euros to finally get some leeway," he said.

Raumfahrt Cassini Landung auf Titan
An artist's impression of the ESA landing unit 'Huygens' (left) separating from the 'Cassini' orbiter as the spacecraft advances Titan, Saturn's biggest moonImage: ESA

Both EADS Space Transportation and OHB as well astronaut Ernst Messerschmidt have appealed to the German government for support and more funds.

Messerschmidt said that the German Research Ministry's budget allocation for space research had already fallen to 11 percent from 20 percent.

"We have to stop this process," Messerschmit said.

Manfred Fuchs pointed out that nations like Japan had already massively increased their space research budgets.

However, a spokesman for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) was skeptical of the ambitious plans of aerospace industry representatives. He told Spiegel Online that the "big goal" of the DLR remained the international Space station ISS and the docking of the European space research module Colombus.

A "quantum leap"

Aerospace industry experts for now have pinned their hopes on a more realistic goal: building a giant radio telescope on the moon by 2015, which in Dudok's words would bring a "quantum leap for radio astronomy."

EADS Space Transportation is already working with Dutch researchers on the telescope. The apparatus, which will be transported with the help of a Ariane 5 rocket, will consist of 100 small antennae and will cover an initial radius of 300 meters, if all goes according to plan.

Scientists aim to catch long wave signals -- that have proved difficult to measure so far -- dating back to the origins of the universe.

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