The head of the French Republic's executive, Elisabeth Borne, revealed on 18 September before the space community from all over the world gathered in Paris that the executive she heads is "prepared to invest more than 9 billion euros in the space sector over the next three years".
The woman in whom the re-elected President Macron has placed his trust to lead the nation's policy and government action made her commitment public in her opening speech at the 73rd International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which is being held in the city of the Seine from 18 to 22 September under the theme "Space for all".
As head of the Council of Ministers for the last four months, Borne told a packed audience of the world's leading space executives that "we are going through a period of major changes, geopolitical imbalances and tidal waves such as climate and digital change, and to overcome them, space will be crucial".
Elisabeth Borne is a 61-year-old Parisian, an engineer in roads, canals and ports, and with experience in three different ministerial portfolios since Emmanuel Macron ascended to power in mid-May 2017. She said that space is a "field of confrontation", in which Paris will invest more than €9bn - 24% more than in the previous three-year period - to implement the space strategy defined by President Macron in Toulouse last February.
Given the strategic importance of the sector for France, this multi-billion euro figure is the sum of various appropriations, most of which are already included in the next budgets. Taken together, they are focused on having "the maximum impact on our research, our industry and our fellow citizens" on the four "ambitions" that France has set for itself.
One is climate monitoring and participating in scientific adventures and explorations. Another is the provision of services from orbit and satellite constellations, such as shaping a European system of secure space telecommunications, which she stressed is "indispensable for our national security".
Another no less important ambition cited by the prime minister is to "take on the military part of our space power", a chapter to which the Military Programming Act 2019-2025 foresees an allocation of €5 billion. "We cannot be naïve about the militarisation of space," she stressed.
"We must adapt and equip ourselves with space equipment to preserve our national strategic autonomy in terms of situation assessment, decisions and conduct of operations." She added that it was also a matter of defending national interests in this environment, "including in an active way", she said.
But what is France's primary space ambition? Its main priority, the cornerstone on which the architecture of the space edifice conceived by the French authorities rests, is to have an independent and sovereign capacity to travel and position objects in outer space orbit and beyond.
In her speech, Elisabeth Borne stated that "we must take on board the European preference for launches, become more competitive and build major launch projects". She went on to add that "I am thinking of Ariane 6, but also of mini and micro reusable launchers".
More powerful, less costly - in theory - than the Ariane 5 it will replace, but not reusable like Elon Musk's American Falcon 9, with which it will compete in the international market, the Ariane 6 is suffering delay after delay in its development. Everything suggests that it is already doomed to delay its maiden flight yet again. ESA is likely to announce in the near future that its first take-off will not take place in the remainder of 2022, but in the first or second quarter of 2023.
In addition, the war in Ukraine and Moscow's blocking of Russian Soyuz launchers from French Guiana have meant that Ariane 5 is now the only European means of transport capable of delivering the large, heavy satellites contracted to Arianespace, the European launch services company, into space. The last such launch took place on 7 September, when one of the last Ariane 5s to be built placed the 6.5 tonne Konnect VHTS platform of French operator Eutelsat into orbit.
The International Astronautical Federation, which is organising the Congress, and CNES, which is sponsoring it, are expecting around 8,700 professionals from 113 countries to attend. The IAC in Paris is hosting a large exhibition hall with nearly 250 stands where agencies, institutions and companies from the sector will present their initiatives and products.
The Spanish pavilion has been organised jointly by ICEX Spain and the CDTI and hosts 14 companies: Alen, Anzen Engineering, Arquimea, AVS, Comet, Deimos, DHV, Emxys, GMV, Ienai Space, Madridspace, Pangea, Prosix Engineering and Satlantis.
In contrast, there is a notable absence not only in the exhibition area but also among the authorities and the managers and engineers giving lectures and presentations. The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, is not participating in the Paris Astronautical Congress.
Roscosmos explained in a statement that the French authorities "have refused entry visas to most of the members of the official delegation that the Federal Agency is sending to the IAC in Paris". The reaction of the new director general, Yuri Borisov, in agreement with President Vladimir Putin, has been to cancel Russia's official presence at the biggest space event of the year.