european space agency ESA.jpg
Photograph: EPA

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."

Latest news

Thousands of Romanians revive anti-government protests

Thousands of Romanians turned out on Sunday to renew their demands for the government to step down amid accusations it is trying to protect corrupt politicians.

Francis, first pope to visit Anglicans in Rome, weighs S Sudan trip

Pope Francis became the first leader of the Catholic Church to visit the Anglican community in Rome on Sunday, where he said he was considering a trip to famine-struck South Sudan.

Ibrahimovic lifts Man United past Southampton in League Cup final

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored an 87th-minute winner as Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 in an exciting League Cup final on Sunday.

London screens Iranian director's film amid Oscars boycott

Thousands of people watched a free screeening of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's film "The Salesman" in London on Sunday to coincide with the Oscars.

Real Madrid stage comeback to stay top; Messi scores in Barcelona win

Lionel Messi scored the winner as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 on Sunday to move top of the Spanish first division.

Dubrovnik Sun Gardens Hotel member of The Leading Hotels of the World

The Dubrovnik Sun Gardens Hotel has joined the Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd., a global hospitality consortium of more than 375 hotels and resorts in over 75 countries.

Biggest Bosnian Serb party ceases all contact with Izetbegovic over ICJ judjment review request

The main committee of the biggest Bosnian Serb party which makes up the ruling majority in Bosnia and Herzegovina decided o Sunday that its officials would cease all contact with member of the Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic until the crisis occurred following the submission of a request to the International Court of justice (ICJ) to review its ruling against Serbia is resolved.

Egypt court adjourns Morsi retrial over prison escape

An Egyptian court adjourned a case against former president Mohamed Morsi until March 29 on Sunday, during the first session of his retrial over orchestrating a prison escape during the 2011 uprising.

Hamas rejects Netanyahu's proposal for international forces in Gaza

The Islamic Hamas movement rejected on Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to send international forces to the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave that Hamas has been ruling since 2007.

Deloitte: Growing optimism among CFOs

Chief financial officers (CFOs) in Croatia are more optimistic about growth and financial prospects in 2017 than they were last year, with most of them expecting increases in their company's revenue, a survey shows.

Russian agents main suspects for attempted coup in Montenegro

Russian citizens Eduard Shumakov and Vladimir Popoc, suspected of organising terrorist activities in Montenegro and forming a criminal organisation, are agents of Russia's Main Intelligence Agency (GRU), British, U.S. and other intelligence agencies confirmed, the Podgorica-based media reported on Sunday.

Six injured, 96 detained in Berlin fan clashes

Six people were treated in hospital and 96 detained in clashes in Berlin between fans of Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt, police said Sunday.