Is Europe Handing New Space to US Entrepreneurs?
During the press event at the Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Summit held May 20-21 at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, a journalist commented on the prevalence of American teams and asked, “Where are the European teams?”
A European Commissioner recently provided one very powerful answer to that question.
On page 3 (News Briefs) of this week’s issue of Space News, you will find “Astrium Space Plane Fails To Draw Interest.” At the time of the announcement, I found nobody who believed this would ever fly, primarily because of Astrium’s projected cost to develop the vehicle (app. US$1.5B). Not surprising, since Astrium’s overhead costs are more like those of Boeing than SpaceX Corp. Astrium’s failure to secure broad support also isn’t surprising for a different reason; the lackluster interest of Tech news European politicians (and therefore society) in manned space exploration (and, by extension, human spaceflight).
Beyond the issues raised above, the views expressed by European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen speak volumes about the attitudes of the European political establishment toward entrepreneurial space activity (NewSpace). Referring to public remarks by Guenter, Astrium Chief Executive Francois Auque said, “I was even told that this project was morally blameworthy because it targets an audience of the rich people.” How stunningly stultified and non-visionary! Perhaps he doesn’t recall that the first VCR’s and DVD players cost over $1000, or that the first cell phones were quite expensive, or that the first years of train and airline service were not exactly affordable by the masses.
Perhaps he doesn’t understand that it is this “audience of rich people” that provide the first market for so many new products and services, and thus the revenue stream that supports further product development, competition, and lower prices. Or, perhaps he does know all this yet simply has some vague negative toward wealthy people. I don’t know, having never met the man (I would welcome a conversation). What I do know is that his comments are absolutely absurd when you consider his title: European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry. How can he be responsible for growing European enterprise and industry and yet be so cavalier about two primary drivers of economic growth; an emerging industry and wealthy consumers? Perhaps it’s because his career of more than three decades has been one of political rather than business experience.