The Future of the European Space Agency and the UK’s Role in it

  • Monday, 10 May, 2021
    15:00 - 16:00

with
  
Dr Josef Aschbacher
Director General, European Space Agency

Dr Alice Bunn
International Director, UK Space Agency

with Vote of Thanks by

Rt Hon Lord Johnson of Marylebone
Former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation

Chaired by
 
Gabriel Elefteriu
Director of Research and Head of Space Policy, Policy Exchange

About the event

Britain’s participation in the European Space Agency (ESA) has historically been a success, with clear benefits for the UK’s space industry and science research sector. In recent years the direct and indirect returns to Britain’s space sector from our national contribution to the ESA budget have even reached £10 for every £1 invested.

But the context has changed following Britain’s exit from the European Union. Although ESA is not part of the EU, some 26% of ESA’s budget comes directly from the European Commission and a vast majority of the remainder is provided by EU member states. This gives rise to questions about the influence of the EU over ESA’s direction of travel and the extent to which UK interests in ESA can be protected over the long term. In other words, is our £375m/year contribution still worth it?

In post only since March this year, Dr Aschbacher has taken charge of the ESA at a critical time, particularly with negotiations over the agency’s next multi-annual budget set to begin next year.

In this address at Policy Exchange – his first as ESA Director General to a UK audience – Dr Aschbacher outlined his vision for the ESA and discussed how the agency can best serve UK’s interests.

The UK perspective was provided by Dr Alice Bunn in one of her last public engagements as the outgoing International Director at the UK Space Agency. Dr Bunn has been the principal manager of UK’s relations with ESA in recent years.

Rt Hon Lord [Jo] Johnson of Marylebone, who served as the Minister responsible for UK civil space policy through the eventful years of 2015-18 and again in 2019, delivered the Vote of Thanks.

Speaker biographies

Dr Josef Aschbacher began his career at ESA in 1990. His subsequent roles in the space domain took him to Southeast Asia and then back to ESA where in 2001 he began his association with the Copernicus programme. In 2006 he became Head of the Copernicus Space Office and in 2014 he took over the planning for ESA’s Earth Observation programmes. In 2016, Josef Aschbacher was appointed as Director of Earth Observation Programmes, ESA’s largest Directorate, and as Head of ESRIN, ESA’s centre for Earth observation. He became Director General of ESA in March 2021.

Dr Alice Bunn has had a ten-year career in the UK Space Agency, including as Head of Earth Observation Strategy and Director of Policy. As International Director since 2018 she is responsible for international engagement through multilateral and bilateral frameworks. She also leads security and resilience of the UK’s infrastructure and space applications. Alice is head of the UK delegation to the European Space Agency, a member of the World Economic Forum Future Council on space technology, and sits on the board of directors of the US Space Foundation.