Setting the European Role in the Future of Space Exploration

At the Lunar Economy Summit, several institutional and industrial players discussed the future of the lunar economy and the role of Europe in space exploration

Between November 28th and 30th, Space Voyaging took part as Media Partner at the ninth edition of the Aerospace & Defence Meetings Torino event in Turin, Italy. During the three days, the international business convention brought together many aerospace industrial players through a series of conferences and one-to-one meetings. Many companies had the opportunity to build new business collaborations and projects with various partners from all over the World.

Lunar Economy Summit. Credits: Space Voyaging/ Edoardo Giammarino
Lunar Economy Summit. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino

During the third and final day of the ADM Torino, alongside the regular conferences, the Lunar Economy Summit was held. Several major private space companies and Space Agencies joined the convention to discuss the future of the lunar economy, the European role, and the challenges and opportunities given by the Moon’s exploration and exploitation.


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The role of Italy 

The summit was opened by a remote speech from Adolfo Urso, Italian Minister for Business and Made in Italy, who highlighted the important role that the Italian industry plays in the space sector. The minister then emphasized the positive impact that lunar exploration can have on Earth, from the collection of rare earth elements to the exploitation of new technologies developed for the space sector.

Adolfo Urso, Italian Minister for Business and Made in Italy. Credits: Space Voyaging/ Edoardo Giammarino
Adolfo Urso, Italian Minister for Business and Made in Italy. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino

“Aware that the development of a lunar economy requires a commitment that no single country can face alone, we are determined to build partnerships and strategic alliances. In this context, our collaboration with NASA for the implementation of Italian participation in the Artemis program is crucial. […] Through the ESA, we have increased funds for the next three years dedicated to space exploration.”

Then Teodoro Valente, president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), made an overview of the important involvement of Italy in the development of the Artemis program. Indeed, some crucial elements of the project will be developed with a significant contribution from the Italian industry and research:

  • Several ground stations, including the Sardinia Deep Space Antenna (SDSA), will provide connection for the Moon’s missions.
  • Italy provides crucial components for the Orion’s European Service Module.
  • Thales Alenia Space Italia (TAS-I) is a prime contractor and subcontractor for the production of major elements of the Lunar Gateway, like the ESA International Habitation Module (I-HAB) and the NASA Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO).

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How much is Europe late in space exploration?

The European aerospace sector has managed to remain highly competitive since the beginning of space exploration. After the USSR and the USA, Europe has consistently secured a prominent role. However, in recent years, Europe appears to be losing ground to the well-established U.S. market, China, and an emerging player like India. The recent crisis in European launchers is a testament to this. Influential voices, such as the report from the ESA’s High-Level Advisory Group released last March, are seeking to draw attention to this issue, which could potentially harm the continent both technologically and geostrategically.

At the Lunar Economy Summit, the question was addressed by Didier Schmitt, coordinator of human and robotic exploration at ESA.

Didier Schmitt. Credits: Space Voyaging/ Edoardo Giammarino
Didier Schmitt. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino

Schmitt pointed out how China and India have ambitious plans for human space exploration. The first one has already deployed an autonomous space station with regular presence of astronauts in Low Earth Orbit and is planning to land humans on the Moon in the 2030s. India has recently landed its first mission on the Lunar surface, is building a manned launch system and is developing an important space exploration roadmap.

Europe is collaborating with the Artemis program, but for decades, it has decided not to develop autonomous capabilities for launching humans into orbit and beyond. As a result, it is now significantly behind other international players. Paradoxically, as said by Schimitt, ESA has obtained bigger results in the Mars exploration. We need to take an example from this to understand what our role should be in LEO orbit and lunar exploration.

ESA's space exploration capabilities compared to the USA, China and India. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino
ESA’s space exploration capabilities compared to the USA, China and India. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino

“The annual ESA budget is now €1 Billion, one-fiftieth compared to NASA.[…] It’s only a political choice. We are only at the hatch of the game, and we are late.”

— Didier Schmitt, Head of the Strategy & Coordination Group, Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration, ESA

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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector.

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