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A new age of exploration begins


On 14 December 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison H. Schmitt and Eugene A. Cernan became the last humans to leave the lunar surface. 50 years later, the USA, together with Europe, has heralded the return to Earth’s Moon with the successful flight of Artemis I. This time, there will be more than just a three-year interlude. Humanity has come to stay and, in doing so, moves one step closer to Mars. With its European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P), also known as Terrae Novae, ESA is ensuring that it plays a significant role in the new exploration era.

By supplying the Bremen-built European Service Module (ESM) as part of the Orion spacecraft, Europe has enabled the US American return to the Moon with the Artemis programme and will continue to support NASA with further modules. With the part it plays as prime contractor in numerous ESM projects, German industry is optimally positioned to lead Europe to the Moon and beyond. At the same time, Europe remains committed to the continuity of the International Space Station ISS and to the research conducted there. These scientific activities in low-Earth orbit deliver important results for research and technology, to the benefit of life on Earth as well as for journeys to more distant destinations. Through their work on the ISS and their lunar and martian research, German researchers have proven that they are among the finest in the world. The relevant part of the programme, called SciSpacE, has been expanded to cover not only the ISS but the Moon and Mars as well. Robotic exploration of the Moon is another key focal point for Germany, as shown by its extensive participation in the European Large Logistics Lander (EL3) called ‘Argonaut’. Europe will also contribute to the Lunar Gateway, a space station in a special lunar orbit. In addition, Germany supports the continuation of the Rosalind Franklin mission of the ExoMars programme and is preparing the Mars Sample Return Mission with NASA to explore our neighbouring Red Planet. Under the ExPeRT programme element, studies and technologies are being prepared in order to investigate future ‘travel destinations’. With a total of 725.6 million euros, which corresponds to a 24.3 percent share in E3P, Germany is ensuring that Europe can once again impressively expand its role in astronautical spaceflight and onwards to the Moon and Mars compared to ESA Ministerial Council 2019 in Seville.

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Germany’s contribution to the ISS and space exploration

The ISS safeguards exciting research under space conditions

The ISS – guaranteeing exciting research under space conditions (NASA)
Bartolomeo external platform – ISS commercialisation 'made in Germany' (NASA)

Germany boasts Europe's largest community of scientists conducting research under space conditions. But only by nurturing upcoming young talent will it be possible to maintain this leading position. Intriguing studies on the ISS and other platforms are bound to inspire the next generation of scientists to study STEM subjects and eventually space research at our universities. It follows that the ISS safeguards a wide range of exciting research activities under space conditions. With its contribution to ESA at the 2022 Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, Germany has ensured the continued operation of the space station until at least 2030 whilst preparing the ISS for the smooth transition to its use as a sustainable LEO infrastructure after 2030. New, commercial services are currently being developed in the US by Axiom Space, Blue Origin ('Orbital Reef') and Nanoracks ('Starlab'). Such private sector activities are becoming increasingly important for the ISS itself. An increasing number of commercial operations and services are being enabled 400 kilometres above Earth in order to make the existing infrastructure available to a wider user base and allow space agencies to redirect their focus onto new objectives. German companies are developing their own commercial offerings, such as Airbus with the Bartolomeo project. In addition, the continued utilisation of the ISS is to cover certain aspects of exploration that will enable journeys to more distant worlds.

Germany at the forefront of space research

The SciSpacE element of the E3P programme will continue to support European scientists to conduct fundamental research and, to a limited extent, prepare for the scientific activities on the Gateway. German institutions will likely be the main beneficiaries. After all, during the Cosmic Kiss mission undertaken by the German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer in 2022, no fewer than 35 of the total of 240 experiments conducted had been prepared with German participation. Whether human physiology, biology, medicine, physics, materials science or technology, Germany is ideally equipped across the entire breadth of cutting-edge research under space conditions. This is thanks to a comprehensive national space programme that has stimulated and bolstered scientific activities on the ISS to date. This strong foundation for German experiments must be consolidated further in the new age of exploration. Germany is also home to leading expertise in planetary research, primarily located at DLR Adlershof and at various Max Planck institutes.

The FLUMIAS fluorescence microscope can be used to create images of living cells in high resolution and in real time. (Till ID/DLR/Airbus/University of Magdeburg)
Complex plasmas can also be studied on the ISS. In the picture Laborexperinet (Universität Gießen)

Five Cornerstones for ISS and Exploration


  • Cornerstone 1 – to the Moon via the ISS
  • Cornerstone 2 – German SMEs involved in Gateway from the start
  • Cornerstone 3 – sustainable lunar exploration
  • Cornerstone 4 – next stop, Mars
  • ExPeRT – a test bed for space missions

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