In 2020, Thomas Pesquet will be embarking on another space mission. And more than ever, France is playing an instrumental role in space exploration.
After an initial six-month mission (November 2016-June 2017), the French astronaut is expected to return to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020. Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, made this announcement on Tuesday 22 January 2019 during her New Year Address to the Higher Education, Research and Innovation community at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris.
This is a landmark stage for France, which is continuing to invest in the development of international space activities.
FRANCE: A LEADING PARTNER IN SPACE EXPLORATION
For a number of years now France has been playing a key role within the European Space Agency (ESA), not least by making the Centre spatial guyanais (CSG) in French Guiana available for launches – thereby turning Kourou into “Europe’s Spaceport” – and sharing its expertise in the design of satellites and instruments carried by space probes.
Another flagship project: NASA’s InSight mission, which has sent a lander to Mars, comprises a French seismometre (SEIS) to study the crust, mantle and core of the Red Planet and so understand their properties.
The joint development of the MASCOT lander by the space agencies of France (CNES) and Germany (DLR) for the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 has enabled the composition of an asteroid to be analysed and samples to be collected.
On Earth, France also hosts a User Support Operations Centre (USOC) in Toulouse. Its aim is to prepare ESA’s various missions and experiments onboard the ISS, and to assist astronauts working in the station.
What about the future? Well, in 2020, a NASA rocket will be launched towards the Red Planet to look for potential signs of life. Onboard, a vehicle called “Mars 2020 rover” will be equipped with a homing head, the “SuperCam”, developed by the Laboratoire d’astrophysique de Bordeaux, a joint research unit (UMR) attached to Université de Bordeaux and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).
THE WORLD’S 2ND LARGEST BUDGET DEDICATED TO SPACE
In 2018, €2.4bn were given over to French space activities, which amounts to the world’s 2nd largest budget after the United States.
These funds are mainly earmarked for contribution to ESA’s activities (€965m), and then for the national space programme (€726m). €689m are set aside for CNES’s own resources, and €58m for the Investments for the Future Programme (PIA).
Government of France