Italy in space with the Pnrr

Jupiter mission. «The European satellite and with a lot of Italian technology that will be launched towards the largest planet in our solar system will leave Europe on January 20, destination Peru, from where it will be launched at the end of April. It will arrive at Jupiter in 2030 and will focus mainly on Ganymede and possibly Callisto, Jupiter’s largest natural satellites. The mission, Juce, has several objectives: to discover hidden oceans and find subterranean bodies of water, to map the surfaces of moons, to study what moons are made of, and to analyze their rarefied atmospheres. Exploring Jupiter and its icy moons is important because, as well as being a major part of our solar system, it will help us learn more about worlds orbiting other stars. Thousands of exoplanets have already been discovered, and there are countless more waiting to be found. Many of these distant worlds are gas giants like Jupiter. They are too far away to send space probes but we will be able to make valid hypotheses about their nature by studying Jupiter and alien life can be searched for on non-Earth-like planets.

ESA, the European space agency, is already planning future exploration of the outer solar system. Furthermore, ESA and NASA are studying a possible joint mission that would target the two giant ice planets: Uranus and Neptune»: Giorgio Saccoccia, 60 years old, with a degree in space engineering, has been the president of ASI, the space agency since 2019 Italian, and announces plans for the new year (and next). «A challenging 2023 awaits us – he says – also because space has returned to the fore, so much so that global regulation would be appropriate, so far only astronauts went into space, if now normal paying travelers arrive and space becomes crowded it will be necessary to find shared rules ».

Crowded space? It certainly seems so: in February the Indian agency should carry three astronauts into orbit for seven days, in March it will be the turn of SpaceX’s Polaris Dawn, which will fly for five days with a crew made up entirely of private citizens, who will probably carry out the first commercial spacewalk (700 kilometers from the Earth), in April it will be the turn of Juice (to Jupiter), a new SpaceX journey will follow and the first suborbital flight of Virgin Galactic which promises a sort of low cost, so to speak since the ticket has a price of 450 thousand dollars.

In the summer, ESA and ASI are engaged in the launch of Euclid, a space telescope for the study of distant galaxies and the phenomena of matter and dark energies. NASA will then launch the Psyche probe towards the asteroid of the same name which is located around the sun, in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, to study its composition which seems to be predominantly iron and nickel. Finally, the Russian mission Luna 25 should start, which will bring a robotic vehicle to the Moon.

The space economy is exploding, woe to stay on the sidelines. «Space is becoming a great accelerator of the country’s growth» says Saccoccia. «It is no coincidence that the Pnrr was also involved. ASI has been assigned 880 million euros which we will invest largely in upstream, in what is sent into orbit, but with a return in terms of satellite services and applications (downstream) which will then be used by citizens and institutions . But with the agreements signed by the Ministry of Innovation with ESA and ASI, a total funding of 2 billion is reached, which will allow Italy to maintain some of its primates in this field.

Now Italy is third for contributions to ESA with 18.2% and is approaching Germany (20.8%) and France (18.9%). This allows us to have a completely different interaction with France and Germany than a few years ago. Italy is much more involved in decision-making processes and it is a change that our country must know how to ride».

Request. An investment that is poured into the production system?

Reply. Yes, Space is an issue with a large multiplication factor, with a great return on investment. Then we must add that the entire supply chain has now grown, in terms of competence and ability to work on orders, grown to the point that it was important to feed it with new opportunities for development. And there is also the aspect of visibility, of positioning abroad, and having financial resources and investments, which we were able to decide in total autonomy at a national level, represented a strategic opportunity and allowed us to choose the areas in which to invest. The Italian space supply chain covers all sectors, from research to productivity, often aiming and supporting the development of innovative startups as well. This makes it globally competitive.

Q. There is a very close relationship with NASA.

A. We are also actively collaborating in the demanding Artemis project, which intends not only to bring man back to the moon in 2025 but also to build a permanent settlement there and then proceed to exploit its mineral resources and use it as a base for a human expedition to Mars. This too is a confirmation of the renewed centrality of space from an economic and geopolitical point of view.

Q. Are there reflections on the space of the war in Ukraine?

A. The repercussions are both direct and indirect. The firsts for the space sector are mainly linked to the reorganization of missions involving the Russians or using technologies that may be less available. These missions, as is the case with ExoMars, are being rethought because they want to be carried forward but will have to be reorganized. The indirect repercussions, on the other hand, concern problems such as the increase in costs, including that of materials, and the scarce availability of electronic components. It is clear that all this will have an impact, at least economically, on current and future programmes.

Q. Europe is also held back by the lack of its own vectors to put satellites into orbit.

A. It is true and it is a topic that can no longer be postponed. We need to understand if there is the European (political) will to acquire its own launchers in order to have real space independence. The problem will be addressed at a forthcoming summit. Another topic concerns the launch of projects, for example with Japan and Argentina. Space collaboration can be the driving force of other agreements, including commercial ones.

Italy in space with the Pnrr