Sources

The New Space Race: Europe's Competitive Advantage Is Wisdom

With more and more state and private entities setting their sights on space, Europe will need to assert itself, but in a safe, responsible way.

The SpaceX crew about to liftoff, 23 April 2021.
The SpaceX crew about to liftoff, 23 April 2021.
Patrick Baudry*

-OpEd-

PARIS — Space is the most beautiful place on Earth. That's what I realized when I came back from my space flight, on June 24, 1985. But unless we rethink the rules governing our starry sky, space could also present some very real dangers.

Never before has the adventure of space travel attracted so many players, from states to private companies. And no longer is there just one space-race, but many, and much of it driven by the private sector, a movement sometimes referred to as NewSpace. There's the lunar base, the conquest of Mars, new orbital stations, manned space flights and mega-constellations of satellites.

NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station​, rocket launched on April 23, 2021. — Photo: NASA/ZUMA Wire/ZUMA

The latter are particularly problematic, as companies all want their satellites in low orbit to provide high-speed connection, power the Internet of Things, and provide observation services. As such, this tiny strip in space between 400 km (the orbit of the ISS) and 1,500 km is currently being colonized: Starlink already has more than 1,200 satellites in orbit out of the 30,000 to 40,000 devices that are planned.

Amazon is getting on board as well. Its Project Kuiper has already been granted authorization for 6,000 satellites. China, for its part, has allowed 15 Chinese companies to get a share of the pie. And Europe too has made it clear that it wants to get in on other action.

Our near-Earth space could turn into a new sword of Damocles above our heads.

Last year, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton announced the launch of the bloc's own mega-constellation project. But to meet this challenge, Europe will have to change its space economic model, by reducing the cost of its launch vehicles, developing its own processes to manage space traffic and debris, and working more effectively with start-ups. This industrial gamble can only succeed if Europe tackles another equally difficult challenge: establishing responsible operating and regulatory standards within low earth orbit.

As space becomes useful for all, the number of objects orbiting around the Earth is de facto multiplying exponentially. While humanity has put some 9,000 satellites into orbit since Sputnik, a mega-constellation project alone involves two to three times that amount. And as of right now, about 50 such projects are in the works. It's clear, as a result, that we will very soon be confronted with new risks of collision, debris and interference.

In the absence of rules to better anticipate and manage these risks, our near-Earth space could turn into a new sword of Damocles above our heads: a new environmental, technological and industrial trap. Rules should be preventive. Among other things, operators of mega-constellations must be required to assess the environmental impact of their projects.

Patrick_Baudry_French_astronaut

Former French austronaut Patrick Baudry. — Photo: RCA La Radio

Prevention is crucial in a sector where finding fixes — such as the collection of debris — is astronomically expensive at best and improbable at worst. Most of all, let us not forget that how we use space will directly affect our condition and quality of life on Earth!

Europe must respond to this double challenge. If the bloc doesn't decide today to get politically involved in the regulation of low-earth orbit, it will surely lose the little autonomy it has left. We don't want to be left behind. But we also don't want to get caught up in a race without rules. Instead, let's show the way to a safe and well-managed space! Starting today, we must learn to use space in a more responsible way than we have down here on Earth.


*Patrick Baudry is a French author, lecturer and former astronaut.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ