(Image source: ESA)

The interview was conducted in Greek and translated in English by Nicholas Argyros, EST Ambassador for Greece (2019 – 2020)

It is that time of the year! World Space Week has come again and in order to celebrate and honour it properly, we managed to have some basic queries about Greece’s participation in the European Space Agency (ESA) answered. We discussed thoroughly with Michael Kotsias, an ex-delegate of Greece to ESA from 2011 to 2017, about ESA’s operation and contribution to space technology development.

What duties and responsibilities did you have as a delegate of Greece to ESA?

I was a delegate to the Space Telecommunication Committee, to the Programme Board on Satellite Navigation (PB-NAV and to the Advanced Research Telecommunication Satellites (ARTES). Furthermore, I was part of the Joint Board on Communication Satellite Programme (JCB), part of the financial and manufacturing committees and part of the Council, which is the upper organ, making decisions about ESA. The main delegates of the Ministries participating in ESA participate in this Council. 

There is not only one delegate, the General Secretary of Greece is an ex-officio and supplementarily, I was a delegate myself, as someone had to be specialised in the topics discussed. Ultimately, I was part of the most committees. Hierarchy-wise Council was first, then the Administrative and Financial Committee (AFC), then Industrial Policy Committee (IPC) and then JCB and PB-NAV.

What is the exact role of Greece as a country-member of ESA? How does Greece contribute in the ESA?

Greece entered ESA in 2005 under a protective regime, participating in some projects with local entities, so that we can adjust to the operation of the agency. However, Greece has been a Member State from 2011 to present and has been voting both in the Council and in all of the committees. Depending on the issue, according to regulation, decisions are made at a majority or at a reinforced majority. Greece’s contribution is at the moment around half of one percent and is determined from Greek GDP and the GDP of the rest Member States.

How does the European Union support ESA on achieving its goals?

There is some contribution to funding, provided for certain purposes, as the European Union supports some projects jointly. ESA is the unofficial Space Agency of the European Union, taking into account that the E.U. has no other agencies dealing with this kind of topics. There are some space authorities at a European Union level, yet they do not produce the same amount of work as the European Space Agency. During the collaboration with ESA, the European Union covers almost fifty per cent of the funding. 

How has the Greek space community evolved? Has the number of space researches been increasing in the last decade?

Greece has quite a powerful community working on space applications. There are some manufacturers and machine shops constructing parts for space missions, companies working on the development of systems related to the built of a spaceship. These systems can be either electrical, mechanical or software. Some Greek teams are globally considered pioneers in optical telecommunications. The last few years due to inertia of the state and due to lack of funds, during a period of financial crisis, this community probably stays constant. The biggest revenue comes from ESA programs, but that requires Greece to have given some sort of subscription. Unfortunately, we don’t have the affluence to allocate this high amount of money, so the progress is not that remarkable. 

On the other hand, the number of researchers increases, as there are many university’s departments working partly on space at the moment due to the universities’ proliferation. They do increase geometrically. There are always professors, who seize the chance to teach and work on this kind of applications. Consequently, their number probably increases, but not at a rapid pace.

Has it become easier for the average European student to have access to space projects professionally? 

It has become easier, indeed, but not to a great degree. However, if a student is interested in space projects and dreams of working on them, there are many different ways to channel his energy. This could be done in Greece, but there are also many opportunities in Europe. The most important thing is that someone has a pure interest in this field. One should work on something he or she loves.

How does technological development of ESA effect in the improvement of the European citizen’s standard of living?  

Research for space materials, applications and products ultimately get into customers’ hands, the so-called down-to-earth. Readers can find many examples of these products on the official website of ESA, products that have ended up being used by all of us daily. New methods related to carbon fibres were used for the first time for the construction of a spaceship, then for the construction of racing formulas and at the moment, carbon fibres can be a basic part of a car’s construction.

 Furthermore, there are many claddings made from these fibres in masonries, but their research started for space purposes as composite material had to be durable and lightweight. Weight is a pivotal factor for space products. Many of the products that are part of our routine were initially developed for a very certain scientific purpose and then it became available to the public. It’s a win-win for everybody, everybody earns something from this progress. Both citizens, who use more developed products, and companies, that invest in these, do have a great profit, such as the researchers involved. It’s a whole economy operating in a circle.  

What was the greatest achievement of ESA the last few years in your opinion?

Rosetta. Rosetta was undoubtedly an achievement of great importance, as for the first time a spaceship hooked on an asteroid and gave us much useful information about the origin of these astronomical objects and their composition. Additionally, it was a notable achievement that gave a lot of publicity to the Agency, thus I consider it a landmark. 

How does ESA inform European citizens about its projects and action?

ESA has a project running especially for schools and students, called European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO). Unfortunately, this project is not used as it should be in Greek schools. Schools and their students could be informed much more. Diffuseness of information in Greece is below average, students’ interaction with space is due to the interest of certain executives and some teachers or professors, who pursue this type of projects and much less to a state public strategy of diffusion and informing of Greek citizens about space issues. From time to time there are some road shows, organised by the European Union, which is related to space all over Europe. One of these shows took place in Athens in 2014, as I recall.

Could any possible collaboration of ESA with NASA set the foundation for a global space technology network? 

It is happening at the moment. All of these agencies do have memorandum of cooperation between them and all of their executives know each other quite well. We should not forget the International’s Astronomical Union (IAU), which holds conferences annually. In these conferences all these executives meet up and discuss about space issues.

Find out more about ESA visiting: http://www.esa.int/ESA