18 March 2016. By any measure, access to space has been a true success story for Europe. For more than three decades, Europe has enjoyed the availability of an independent, reliable and efficient infrastructure and means for launching into space.

Yet, the space launch industry has been changing rapidly in the past few years, and it is expected to experience even more profound changes in the years to come. In response to and in anticipation of these changes, the ESA Council at Ministerial level of 2 December 2014 took a number of strategic decisions vis-à-vis the future of European launchers; decisions that will likely affect not only the development of Europe´s access to space, but also the broader goals and directions of the European space programme and of Europe in the space arena for the decades to come.

This ESPI report offers an in-depth reflection on the medium-term consequences of such decisions, in terms of how these will position Europe at the nexus of commerce and geopolitics. Specifically, it assesses the scope, implications, opportunities and constraints of the European strategy in the launcher sector with respect to the broader and rapidly evolving international context. To this effect, the report provides a detailed analysis of worldwide commercial and political dynamics shaping this domain, investigates key unfolding trends and their future impacts, and in turn assesses the ensuing challenges and opportunities to be faced by European institutions and industry in safeguarding its future competitiveness and optimizing the political benefits of Europe’s autonomous access to space.

An overall assessment of the current European strategy on access to space and of the medium-term prospects for European launchers is provided, and subsequently used as a basis to discuss a set of potential policy measures that should be but in place in order to overcome the issues identified as of concern. The report in particular puts the spotlight on how to enhance the future commercial competitiveness of European launchers; promote disruptive technological innovation in Europe; boost and geopolitically leverage the strategic significance of European launchers; reinforce Europe’s role in human spaceflight; and better secure Europe’s gateways to space.

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