Even if the Russian contribution is half as large as planned, Europe will overtake America in its space ambitions.
Moreover, it can be confidently said that the Russian contribution will become the program's core in the near future. This idea gained credence at an international conference on cooperation in space that was held in Brussels in late February and attended by representatives of more than 40 countries and about 20 international agencies.
When speaking about close cooperation between the EU and Russia, Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA), singled out an agreement signed in Moscow on January 19 on launching Russian Soyuz carrier rockets from the ESA's Kourou space center in French Guiana.
The project is the result of an inter-governmental agreement signed between Russia and France in November 2003. Worth 344 million euros, Russia should receive about 130 million.
However, the most important point of the agreement is that it paves the way for long-term Russian-European space cooperation and, in addition to increasing the European share of the global market of launch services, also provides for the joint development of new space hardware. A strategic leap into the future, it is bound to result in Europe dominating the rocket-building scene.
The agenda also includes a plan (with Russia's direct participation) to develop an all-inclusive space system of international security, which may play a role in the struggle against terrorism.
While addressing the Brussels meeting Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, listed nine areas which could build up this system. They are: space communications, coordinate time positioning, economic monitoring of the Earth, solar studies, search and rescue, control over how international treaties and agreements are observed, natural disaster monitoring, space junk monitoring, and astrophysical and planetary investigations. Moreover, the Brussels space summit already began the pre-start countdown on a major international project - a global Earth observation system to be deployed as the central element of the overall natural disaster monitoring scheme. On behalf of the Russian government, Mr. Perminov signed a resolution to establish this system within the next ten years. It is hard to overestimate the significance of the system, especially since the elements have been persistently prompting us to pool our efforts to issue warnings about natural disasters.
There is a legal precedent. The first experience of joint efforts was the international Space and Major Disasters Charter, adopted in 2000 on the initiative of ESA and French space agency CNES. The Charter signatories, which include Canada, Argentina, India and Japan, set themselves the task of pooling incoming information from satellites in one data bank in a bid to deal with the effects of natural and industrial disasters.
Since November 2001, the signatories have recorded more than 60 natural disasters, with floods accounting for 40% and earthquakes 40%. Last year, the satellite systems monitored earthquakes in Iran, Indonesia and Morocco, hurricanes in Grenada and Haiti, and floods in Bolivia and Namibia, and, of course, the dreadful tsunami in South East Asia, which claimed more than 300,000 lives.
This summer's Le Bourget air show will give the general public a chance to see a piece of space equipment that is certain to join the European space program, especially as it was developed in cooperation with ESA. It is Russia's reusable Klipper spacecraft, which along with a promising European transport vehicle, can also be used in joint programs to study deep space.