“The State must not turn away from space research under the pretext of promoting industrial innovation”

A summer 2020, on the occasion of a ministerial reshuffle, oversight of the French space sector moved from the ministry of research and innovation to the ministry of the economy and finance, for the first time in sixty years .

For the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), this transfer constitutes an unprecedented change. Responsible for the implementation of public space programs, an essential contributor to the development of launchers (Ariane) and innovation, CNES has always been a key player in scientific research, aimed at understanding and protecting our planet, exploring the Universe, or study the laws of nature and living things thanks to microgravity. Thus, CNES plays a major role in the scientific missions of the European Space Agency (ESA) and other international partners, such as NASA. [l’agence spatiale américaine].

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To do this, it relies on a vast network of university laboratories – with the National Center for Scientific Research and the Atomic Energy Commission – and industrial companies. This ecosystem has built the legend of the French space. This was recently recognized by the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of CNES, by affirming that the historic collaboration “Between research laboratories and industries remains one of the great originalities of CNES” and “One of its main strengths”.

Commercial applications

It was therefore as the new minister responsible for CNES that, on December 6, Bruno Le Maire delivered a speech specifying its vision of the French space strategy. This vision seems to oppose scientific research in space and new commercial applications of space. For him, the priority of the French space program must now be the“Industrial adventure”. He must join the “World of competitiveness and financing”.

Of course, we can only hope that our economy will benefit from French expertise in space. France must take its place in the “New Space” [terme qui désigne l’irruption d’acteurs privés spécialisés dans le domaine spatial], by relying not only on its incumbent operators but also by supporting “young shoots” who will eventually be able to conquer the sector’s emerging markets. In the future, science and exploration will also benefit from these new players.

However, this project will not be able to succeed in the long term if the State turns away from space research under the pretext of promoting industrial innovation. Indeed, beyond the knowledge and services it provides, research has always been the main engine of innovation in space. It is at the origin of most of the applications from which we benefit today: meteorological and oceanographic forecasts, positioning systems, Earth monitoring, resource monitoring, risk and pollution management, climate change, etc.

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“The State must not turn away from space research under the pretext of promoting industrial innovation”