Esa chief launches his third term in Oxford
The director general, who will now hold the reins at Esa until June 2015, had been booked to address the university's European Affairs Society on Friday.
About 40 Oxford students (and one BBC journalist) came to hear him discuss the future of European space policy in one of those typically English lecture rooms where every piece of furniture was covered in a layer of chalk dust.
Once he'd had the opportunity to lament the World Cup defeat of his beloved France at the hands of Mexico the previous evening ("There is always some catastrophe on the day I am made DG; the first time it was the failure of Ariane 517"), Mr Dordain was able to set forth his goals.
The discussion naturally recalled the many achievements of Esa and, given the location, he dwelled on the role played within the organisation by the UK, one of its founding members.
In particular, he wanted to mention the more enthusiastic stance towards space initiated by the previous government, and the indication from the new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition that it wished to maintain that momentum. You might have seen that one of the Labour pre-election funding announcements reviewed and confirmed on Thursday by the coalition was the £12m investment in the Harwell International Space Innovation Centre.
But it was the elements which he said were missing from European space policy that I think will interest most here, and on which you may wish to comment below. There were three omissions, he told his audience:
(1) Europe was now in need of a political dimension to space policy, he argued. He contrasted the slow move to consensus required among a club of 18 equal partners (the Esa member states) with the sort of impetus a US President could give to policy. It was only the likes of a US president or a Chinese premier who could say "we go the Moon", and then direct the effort and the money to achieve that goal.
(2) There needed also to be a "defence dimension" to space policy at the European level, he said:
"In contrast to all the other space powers in the world, defence is not a motor for space in Europe. There are very few defence space programmes. Yes, in the UK, Germany and France; but they're individual programmes - while the biggest space agency in the world is not Nasa; in terms of budget, it is the US Department of Defense. They spend far more money than Nasa."
Defence is always a tricky subject for Esa because the idea that space should be used for "exclusively peaceful purposes" is written into its convention. And yet some of its activities - the Galileo satellite-navigation system, for example - clearly will have a dual-use capability. But adding the defence dimension to European space policy would be something he'd be working on in his third term, he confirmed to me after the meeting.
(3) And the final big omission was crew transportation. As you know, at the moment, Europe has no independent means of getting its astronauts into space. They must hitch a ride on a US or a Russian vehicle. Europe certainly has the technical means to build its own transportation system, but so far Esa member states have baulked at the cost.
A key factor playing into all three of these missing elements now is the EU and Article 189 of the Lisbon Treaty, which gives Brussels "joint competency" with its member states on matters of space policy.
The EU and Esa already work closely together (remember, they are separate legal entities) but that relationship is set to grow much closer... to the point where the EU is going to start initiating many more space programmes of its own, using Esa as its agent or technical adviser.
And that very probably means extra money for space activity, too. If Europe is ever to have its own manned spaceship it may well be an EU-initiated programme that delivers it.
Anyway, I attach my brief chat with the director general on Friday to this posting. He explains his reasons for accepting a third term and the challenges he faces in taking Esa forwards:
"I have decided to stay for another term, first of all because the member states were asking me; because if the member states were not asking me, I would have done something else. But from the point that they were asking me, I have reflected. And I think that Esa will have to change; Esa will have to adapt itself. Esa is a fantastic organisation but it will have to change to be adapted to the new environment, the new [Lisbon] Treaty, but also the international environment and so on. And to change Esa, I think an old guy with some experience who will be in his last mandate anyway - maybe it's better. So, I have decided to stay basically to make sure Esa will be stronger, and will be the tool that Europe needs to be more influential on the international scene."