Danish astronaut flying on SpaceX shuttle warns Europe not to fall behind in space

By Johannes Birkebaek

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Europe is at risk of falling behind in the global space race and missing out on key technologies, Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen said ahead of his second trip into space onboard Elon Musk's next SpaceX mission in August.

Mogensen, who will be the first non-American pilot to steer the SpaceX Crew Dragon shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS), hopes to one day fly into space on an independent European mission.

"It would be a big honour to fly on a European spacecraft," Mogensen told Reuters in an interview.

The European Space Agency is currently only capable of carrying out manned European missions in space through international cooperations.

Western Europe meanwhile faces a gap in access to space for satellite launches after the Ukraine conflict severed access to the Russian Soyuz launcher, Italy’s Vega-C encountered a launch failure and Europe’s upcoming Ariane 6 was hit by delays.

Europe’s last Ariane 5 launch takes place next month.

"I think it certainly would be a big benefit to Europe and the space industry in Europe if we were capable of sending European astronauts into space on a European spacecraft," Mogensen said.

"I think especially the last year or so has shown that there are some critical technologies that we as a continent have to master so we are not dependant on foreign countries that could then use our lack of capabilities to pressure us," Mogensen said.

Sensitive technologies include secure communications, precise satellite navigation and Earth observation including monitoring of natural and man-made disasters.

In November last year the ESA asked its 22 member nations to back a 25% boost in space funding in an effort to remain a valued partner of the United States.

The United States is currently leading the "race for space" with the budget of the space agency NASA rising since the White House in 2020 called for the biggest NASA budget in decades to reach the moon.

Since then, NASA's budget has risen yearly, amounting to $32 billion in budgetary resources in 2023, according to the government's official spending website.

(Reporting by Johannes Birkebaek, Editing by William Maclean)