European space chief has his eyes on the moon as next stop

Johann-Dietrich "Jan" Woerner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA) since July 1, is already talking about building a 3D-printed village on the moon. 

In an interview with dpa at ESA headquarters in Paris, the 61-year-old German, a civil engineer by training, talked about the agency's plans and more.

ARIANE 6: In August ESA signed a 2.4-billion-euro (2.6-billion-dollar) contract with the European multinational joint-venture company Airbus Safran Launchers for development of next-generation Ariane 6 launchers.

The total amount for development will be about 3 billion euros, including 400 million euros in industrial investment. The first flight is scheduled in 2020, with a preliminary design review scheduled for mid-2016.

"We want Europe to have the means to put various payloads into space with a family of launch vehicles," Woerner said.

The Ariane is ESA's heavy launcher. For medium-sized payloads it uses the Russian-built Soyuz, and for light payloads the predominantly Italian-built Vega.

REUSABLE LAUNCHERS - The private US space companies SpaceX and Blue Origin are working on reusable launch systems, an approach that could be "interesting" for ESA too, said Woerner, noting that the Ariane 6 wasn't the be-all and end-all of rockets.

"We'll have to see. I hope that completely new ideas will come from science, research and business," he said, adding the process would take a lot of time because "developmental periods are simply long."

MOON VILLAGE - "A lot of people are fired up about the moon," remarked Woerner, he being one of them. Returning humans to the moon is "a reasonable objective," he declared, saying he could imagine a "moon village" built with the help of European robots and 3D printers.

Should the International Space Station (ISS) be shut down as feared in 2024, he said, the moon would be a good replacement as a space laboratory and could serve as a staging point for missions farther out in space.

What's more, "We could set up a telescope on the far side of the moon and peer deep into the universe."

Woerner said a decision on a manned European moon mission could come within two years.

MARS - "Man will fly to Mars some day, although I don't think it'll happen in the next 35 years," Woerner said. ESA's next step towards that goal is the March launch on a Russian rocket of two ExoMars spacecraft: a trace-gas orbiter and an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module expected to touch down in October.

A further ExoMars mission, scheduled for 2018, will combine a rover and a surface science platform.

INSPIRATION FOR YOUTH - Woerner expressed the hope that European astronauts will be able to spend time in space beyond the decommissioning of the ISS. Besides the important scientific research done there, he lauded the spirit of cooperation among international astronauts and cosmonauts in trouble-plagued times.

"We can inspire young people incredibly well with manned space flight," he said.

RUSSIA - ESA works closely with its Russian partners despite the West's sanctions against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. And the ISS is operated by the United States, Canada, Japan, the Europeans - and Russia. Woerner defended this engagement with the Russians.

Contacts should be institutionalized, not broken off, during a crisis, he said, and cooperation in space can "act as a bridge."

Last update: Tue, 12/01/2016 - 11:46
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