François Auque is CEO of EADS Astrium. Number 1 in Europe and number 3 worldwide, Astrium employs 12 000 people in five countries: France, Germany, the UK, Spain and the Netherlands.

EADS Astrium has for over 40 years been in the industry and has been vital in many projects such as Ariane, the International Space Station, Envisat and Mars Express.

EADS Astrium has played the leading role in the European space industry for a long time with its core activities: satellite systems, launchers and orbital infrastructures, plus services. Has innovation been important in driving Astrium forward?

Innovation is of course important as a driver. New technologies are key for future applications like laser links or infrared detection by satellites. Innovation will be integral to the future of space exploration. Over the past years, innovative approaches like "ATV Evolution" and even "Spaceplane" have inspired minds and brought forward our thinking, across Astrium and - modestly! - even in our own market environment. This is also valid for innovation in products as we have to offer tailored solutions to meet customers requirements, in particular as an example in the field of science with the Herschel space telescope, GOCE, the Gravity-Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer and others. Innovation is also important for organisations to adapt to the changing market. This is why we have created our Astrium Services activity to offer new solutions with dedicated entities like Paradigm for Secure Telecom or Infoterra for Earth Observation services.

EADS Astrium has been the prime contractor for many Earth Observation (EO) missions. Understanding and modelling of Planet Earth as a global physical system is very important. Can space observation systems meet the challenge?

They do and they will do more. Meteorology is an important aspect of Earth Observation and complements other satellites developed by Astrium like SPOT, TerraSAR-X and Pleiades, which are used for cartography and resources management. Space systems such as Envisat or even Metop (a first flight in 2006, with Astrium instruments measuring wind direction and humidity profile) have already demonstrated their ability to meet the meteorological challenges. On the innovation front, Astrium is developing the Aeolus satellite, to be flown in 2010 with a Laser payload capable to measure the three dimensional wind profiles in areas which are not easily accessible today - for instance the southern hemisphere and oceans - and this will significantly improve the meteorological models. Aeolus alone will provide as many measurements as the 3000 sounding balloons released daily worldwide! We are also devoting maximum efforts to have GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) following the same track, in particular through the development of our Infoterra multiple offering to end users requirements: City communities, farmers and crisis management applications. What is at stake now, is to combine the impressive potential of satellites with local and specific applications.

What is the role of initiatives such as GEOSS and GMES?

The aims of GMES are to federate the various in-situ and space sensors at national and European levels, in order to provide data and to process and distribute information to user communities. Amongst many examples are atmospheric forecasts, land cover/mapping needs, prevention of major hazardous natural disasters such as floods and forest fires, alongside using EO data for maritime surveillance, monitoring smuggling and piracy. At its simplest, GMES covers mainly European needs but also supports emergency response actions outside Europe such as after natural disasters in supporting humanitarian aid. GMES could be the European contribution to the GEOSS ( Global Earth Observation System of Systems ) who has the same "raison d'être" at a world level. The 2009 International Astronautical Congress will have a strong emphasis upon the managing of climate change. How can private companies help meet the challenge to this global issue? Space is naturally the place where most of the so called "Essential Climate variables (ECV)" can be measured to provide a global view of the climate evolution over time. This is how space companies like Astrium contribute to the monitoring and to the better understanding of climate change. I think that private companies have a very crucial role in the solution to be set up to face climate change issues. Archiving and processing the ECV and then distributing them to the climate community is also key, because managing climate change comes of first understanding which parameters affect the climate and then propose solutions. It may surprise some but the main contributor to global warming is the Sun itself and we do not know exactly how much of its energy reaches Earth and how much is reflected back into space. Exploiting the solar energy which bathes us every day efficiently is the next challenge for which experience from space programmes can be derived. Private companies also have to be an example. At EADS, we are taking seriously all our responsibility to become an eco-efficient company. It is part of our 2020 vision that drives our strategy for all EADS divisions. More specifically with regards to climate change, our actions at Astrium are threefold: First, our industrial operations take all possible measures to be more than compliant to environmental regulations. Secondly, so long as it is compatible with our customers requirements we design our products to emit as little CO2 as is made possible by the technology. For example our "TBM" space vehicle recently designed to serve the future space tourism business uses the fuel couple (Oxygen - methane) that is in the lowest CO2 emission category. But the last point is probably the one which will have the highest impact. Our satellites are one of the major pieces in the system collecting, surveying and monitoring both climate change data and its effects on Earth. As we get prepared to go even further in this fight, our navigation systems, namely that of Galileo, are used to help optimise transportation on Earth, at sea or in the air. Surveillance of pollution from space helps the enforcement of international treaties. Agricultural services with the help of satellites make it possible to produce food more efficiently. This makes this activity more efficient and thus less polluting especially in terms of CH4 production responsible for greenhouse effect.

Within the space sector, Astrium does not only concentrate on Earth Observation. Exploration with missions such as Mars Express continues to excite the general public. But is exploration worth the money compared with the understanding our own planet?

Space exploration has the virtue of making dreams come true. This is why it has always raised a huge interest from European citizens. Space exploration contributes significantly to build the European identity and gives Europe a significant role in international cooperation. Furthermore, it brings a lot of side effects in terms of application, economical benefits and technical progress. For example: it spawns new materials, hardware and algorithms that are eagerly taken up by other industry sectors like automotive, machine building, logistics, medical technology, communication, etc. So - yes! Exploration is important for Astrium and is part of our portfolio. Exploration can be robotic missions such as Mars Express, Venus Express, Rosetta (to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko), BepiColombo (to Mercury) and ExoMars in the future. But Astrium is also contributing to human space exploration - just see how we are involved with the International Space Station! 2008 saw tremendous European successes with "Columbus" and its science research packages, but also with the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) which is the only operational cargo transport vehicle beside Russia's Progress. Look also at the innovative ATV evolution programme toward a rentry capsule which Astrium proposed and which was endorsed at the last Ministerial Conference. Besides, our industrial force behind Ariane 5 also gives us an important responsibility and is the key enabler for European spaceflight. All these facts demonstrate the ability of Europe - and Astrium as prime contractor - to meet the most difficult challenges. Space exploration is a "must" for Europe. And at Astrium, we welcome the political conference on space exploration which will take place in Prague in June. This conference will tackle the ways and means for Europe to be part of space exploration in the future. We are very confident of the results: Yes Europe can!