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SPACE FLIGHT 2001 -- European Space Activities

Europe, which saw the formation of a new European economic union and the successful introduction of a unified monetary system, the Euro, is positioned as world number 2 in research and development for space projects, but its efforts in 2001 remained modest compared to astronautics activities of NASA and DOD. A new European space strategy is emerging, as stated at the Council Meeting of ESA (European Space Agency) at Ministerial level, held on November 15 and 16, 2001, at Edinburg, Scotland (UK), which strives to achieve an autonomous Europe in space through close cooperation and partnership between ESA and the European Commission (EC). These are two very different institutional entities, and it will take considerable time to implement a joint European space policy, in which ESA is confirmed as the space agency for Europe.

For the European space program, launch successes in 2001 were less than expected because of the nonavailability of some commercial spacecraft and the weak performance of the 10th Ariane 5 rocket.

In the launch vehicle area, its market leader, Arianespace continued to operate a successful series of six Ariane 4 launches, two down from 2000 (due to satellite delivery delays), carrying 7 commercial satellites for customers such as Italy, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA. At year's end, the Ariane 4 had flown 136 times, with seven failures (= 94.85% reliability) from its Kourou/French Guyana spaceport.

In 2001, the most significant events for ESA, the European intergovernmental organization comprising 14 member nations, were the Edinburg conference, with agreements on future developments including Ariane 5, a program to integrate Eastern European countries such as Rumania, Hungary, Poland, etc. in ESA, and the launch of Artemis on an Ariane 5 on July 12, along with the Japanese BSAT-2b Ku-band/video satellite.

In the human space flight area, while the International Space Station ISS remains ESA's biggest single ongoing program and its only engagement in the human space flight endeavor, European ISS contributions remain unchanged due to top-level agreement signed by previous governments of the participating nations. France has a large and active national space program, including bi-lateral (i.e., outside of ESA) activities with the USA and Russia. On December 18, 2001, the French National Space Agency CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales) celebrated its 40th anniversary. CNES is the major contributor to ESA. In Italy, the Italian Space Agency ASI, created in 1988, participates in the ISS program through ESA but also has a protocol with NASA for the delivery of multipurpose logistics modules (MPLM) for the ISS. Two MPLMs have already been delivered, Leonardo and Raffaello, and both flew in 2001. The third MPLM is Donatello, and Italy has also signed a protocol for the delivery of a second ISS Node. In Germany, the declining interest of the German government (unlike Italy's and France's) in this field continued in 2001. Germany is the second major ESA contributor after France, but it has only a very small national space program: Its public funding for civilian space activities is maintained at a maximum of 690 million Euros ($676 million) annually, of which 532 million go to ESA and 158 million to domestic space activities.

Artemis. ESA's science and communications research satellite Artemis was launched on July 12 on an Ariane 5, which sustained a failure in its upper stage (stage 2) by cutting off too early by 80 seconds. However, Artemis could ultimately be recovered and positioned at its proper location. The 3,300 lbs (1500 kg) dry mass satellite expands European capabilities in satellite communications, testing new technologies (e.g., laser communications), acting as a relay platform to improve existing services to other satellites and systems, and supporting the development of a European satellite navigation system. It will perform three specific functions: provide voice and data communications between mobile terminals, mainly for cars, trucks, trains or boats, broadcast accurate navigation information as an element of EGNOS, a European satellite system designed to augment US Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) and a similar Russian system known as GLONASS; and send high data rate communications directly between satellites in low Earth orbit and the ground. Its SILEX laser communications device established the first liasison with the French Spot 4 satellite on November 15, 2001, and five days later the first-ever image was transmitted between two satellites, when the Pastel terminal on Spot 4 sent an Earth picture to the Opale terminal on Artemis, and thence to the ground, at a bit rate of 50 Mb/sec.