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Europe in Space: Overtaking the Cold Warriors

Representatives of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company and the Russian Aeronautics and Space Agency agreed April 4 to pool resources on several projects. Their new partnership will allow Russia to maintain a semblance of a space program and help Europe push its space program to the forefront of the industry. The long-term loser in this equation is the American space program.


Representatives of Boeing and the state-controlled Russian Aeronautics and Space Agency agreed April 13 to expand aerospace cooperation. Boeing already employs over 600 Russian designers, programmers and researchers, and maintains its only design bureau outside the United States in Russia. Furthermore, Boeing and RASA are partners in major projects such as the International Space Station and Sea Launch, a commercial launch facility. Areas identified for additional cooperation include the increased use of Russia's transpolar routes, a new air traffic management system, expanded design work and the development of a regional jet for Russian and wider international use.

Boeing is not the only entity to perceive an advantage in cooperating with Russian aerospace. The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, Europe's new aerospace conglomerate, also has undertaken a partnership with Russia. On April 4, EADS agreed to assist RASA in developing the A-400M military transport aircraft and civilian aircraft like the A380 super-jumbo jet and in upgrading Soviet-era combat aircraft operated by European states. While these fields are potentially lucrative – and will help EADS in its ongoing battle with Boeing over market share – the true advantage for EADS lies in space.

Europe came late to the space age. Until the merger of various European concerns into EADS in 2000, Europe lacked a large-scale space program and the infrastructure to support it. Most importantly, it does not have the experience of U.S. and Russian space agencies. Europe is also at a geographic disadvantage. Launches are far more efficient if they occur near the equator, where they can take advantage of the earth's rotation. Europe's southernmost latitude is roughly equivalent to that of Tennessee; its primary launch site has consequently been in French Guiana, across the Atlantic.

Thus, a RASA partnership is attractive for EADS. There are other potential benefits as well.

Consider satellite navigation. While Europe has a number of satellites in orbit, it often depends on the U.S. Global Positioning Satellite network for navigation or American satellites for communication. And not having a dedicated network increases the cost for European firms. Consequently, Europe would like to develop its own satellite network.

The first step toward this goal is EADS' Galileo network, a $3 billion network of 30 satellites that will duplicate the American GPS system. To succeed, Europe will need its own ground control center and an expanded launch facility. It will need Russian expertise, technology and perhaps even personnel to build these. Indeed, EADS already plans to use subsystems from Russia's Glosnass navigation systems and Russian rockets to launch the satellites.

And it will do it on the cheap. Since 1998, Russia has been using converted ICBMs to launch satellites inexpensively. Although the START treaties bar such conversions, the chill in Russian-American relations has led Moscow to conclude it has little to lose. As Russian-American political relations sour and European-Russian economic links develop, much of the Galileo system is likely to find its way into space atop Russian missiles.

Russia will be thrilled to help EADS. Politically, any deals that strengthen Europe vis-à-vis the United States will be well received in Moscow, especially if they deliver economic and technical dividends for Russia. If the proposed deals are realized, the agreements could pump as much as $2.3 billion into Russia's beleaguered aerospace sector over the next 10 years, according to Yury Koptev, RASA’s general director.

But Russia’s long-term benefit is less certain. Once Galileo is fully realized in 2007, Europe will have the infrastructure in place to allow it to operate its space program independently, should it so choose. And it can still contribute to the ISS, thus maintaining access to partners' and competitors' space programs. These developments would allow Europe to dominate the industry and give EADS a commanding advantage in a market already worth over $80 billion annually, according to the Satellite Industry Association.

The American space program will be the long-term loser. As the satellite industry commercializes, firms such as Sea Launch and International Launch Services are eating away at what was until recently NASA's captive market. Moreover, continued budget cuts have made it impossible for NASA to go it alone and forced the agency to allocate a disproportionate share of its resources to the ISS in the hopes of achieving economies of scale. The result is that the United States is falling further behind in research and development – even as it shares its existing technology with potential competitors, including Europe.



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