12th November 2014. The date of the successful, remotely-navigated “touchdown” of Rosetta's lander Philae to the surface of the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko - the first in the history of space science and space exploration!
Many have already coined this day as “a small step for a robot, another giant leap for the humankind”. Whereas the entire world is abundant with information on the purpose and complexity of this unique mission, there is merit in highlighting two factors of paramount importance behind this landmark success and any success in future space exploration initiatives.
First and foremost, it always takes a vision. An ambitious, European vision in this case stretching back several decades (initial discussions in late 70’s, agreement to launch the Rosetta mission in 1993). A vision elaborated within the 50-years old European Space Agency aiming for Europe to take center stage as the pioneer in pushing the frontiers of technological excellence and innovation at the service of science and the humanity.
With this ambitious vision at the European level in place industry, national space agencies and RTOs all over Europe and the world were challenged to mobilise their unique skills and resources. And they delivered, through cooperation – the second factor of success. The Rosetta spacecraft involves more than 50 contractors from 15 European countries (13 of which from the EU), Australia, Canada and the USA and across the entire value chain (from large system integrators to components and sub-components suppliers at the SME level). Similarly, the Philae lander is the result of a partnership among leading national space agencies and industries established in 8 EU countries.
Instead of a conclusion, ASD-EUROSPACE, the European association of the space manufacturing industry, seizes this unique opportunity to make the plea for the ESA and EU to step up its engagement and political support to future challenging international initiatives for space exploration. It finally wishes to signal its readiness to contribute to the long-term reflections on other possible ambitious initiatives of Europe through the ESA and the EU in space.
A more thorough presentation of industry views on space exploration is available here.