Nov 15, 2021 / tamara

SPACE TALKS with Jean-Jacques Dordain: next generation of space experts, cooperation between public and private sectors, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

Welcome to a very special episode of Space Talks brought to you by Garage48, hosted by our long-time mentor and space enthusiast - Kai Isand. Our guest is extraordinary Jean-Jacques Dordain. He holds many titles and has been in space most of his conscious life. Jean-Jacques is a professor, advisor, scientist, candidate to be the first French astronaut, and the sixth Director-General of the European Space Agency, serving from 2003 to 2015.


👨🏼‍🚀 Space talks are a series of interviews with influential people in the space sector to inspire ideas and motivate participants of SPACETECH EUROPE Online Hackathon. The hackathon will take place on 3-5th December. Read more HERE.

October 4, 1957, 7:28 PM


“I did not choose to be in space, I was taken to space.”


Jean-Jacques Dordain has known the world with and without space and his journey to space started right after he entered high school with the launch of Sputnik on the 4th of October 1957. Since that moment, he was in space and started to seek opportunities to work in space. He has never come back and he has no intention to come back.


Jean-Jacques Dordain started as an engineer working with rocket engines, then he was a candidate, selected by France amongst 5 other candidates to be the first French astronaut, but since he was not selected, the backup plan for Jean-Jacques was to become the Director-General of the European Space Agency.


“When you cannot be the one that you want to be, it is better to be their boss” - says Jean-Jacques Dordain.


Since he left ESA he continues to be in space, working with 15 startups, which he really enjoys. Currently, he is pursuing the same objectives as in ESA, but the approach is different.


What do you dream about?


“I wish to fly” - this would complete his journey in space.


He has not given up on becoming an astronaut. Many times he wrote to Jeff Bezos, offering himself to join him on the flight to space, but unfortunately, he did not succeed yet. 


Jean-Jacques Dordain has more dreams. What space delivers to humans is knowledge, services, and dreams. These are the three main products of space for humans.


Education is key for the future of humans on Earth.  


Since the 1940s the population has increased by a factor of 3 and the consumption of natural resources of planet earth has increased by a factor of 20. We are living on a finite spacecraft which is planet Earth and we are consuming more and more of the natural resources of that spacecraft. The only natural resources which are increasing on Earth are the brains of the children, there are more and more people, meaning there are more and more brains. And these brains can bring the solution to problems, provided they are educated.


“This is a duty of everyone to make sure that all of the brains of all children in the world are properly educated. I am still a professor because you are the Director for a limited amount of time, but you are a professor all your life.”


Jean-Jacques Dordain continues to be a professor. Transferring knowledge and experience is very important, it is a way we can educate.


“Unfortunately for my students, we solved the easiest problems, we took the easy path, meaning that the young generation will have more difficult problems to solve, meaning that they have to be much better than I have been myself.”


This is how we all have to contribute, to make the next generation much better than our generation. That is one of the solutions to sustaining humanity on planet Earth.


Spacetech needs much wider expertise.


When Jean-Jacques Dordain started his journey in space technology, it consisted of rocket engineers and scientists, it was a small family of people, a space family. Now space is very important and it needs much wider expertise. Space has been driven by a technology push for a long time, but now space has entered the daily life of more and more people and it is much more driven by the users. Thus, we still need engineers and scientists, but we also need lawyers, communicators, professors, and salesmen. 


Engineers and scientists are extremely needed to provide solutions, but we also need people to understand the problem and thus, great communicators, analysts, and much more expertise.


“We need to stop designing a solution and then looking for a problem, we need to first understand the problem and then design the solution.” It is a totally reversed way to define space solutions because we have to define space solutions to the problems of planet Earth. 


Space is becoming a normal sector, it has entered economic and social dimensions of living on planet Earth. It delivers knowledge as many other scientists are also delivering, delivers services as many other solutions are delivering, but what space has, in addition, are the dreams and we have to keep the dreams.


Cooperation and competition.


Cooperation and competition are very important. We cooperate because we have mutual interests and our basic mutual interest is our common future. There is only one common future on planet Earth.


Mutual interests are much more sustainable than love. I did not necessarily get along with all of the people and nationalities I have worked with, but I worked with them because we have common interests and common objectives and that is the benefit of cooperation. “


On the other hand, we need competition, if there is no competition there will not be the best solutions, you are much better when you compete. We have to have a cooperation of interests, but a competition of ideas!


What challenges does spacetech have?


Jean-Jacques Dordain outlined the two biggest challenges he sees in space.


  • Decrease the cost of space products and services.


The space actors have developed processes that are leading to success but these processes are very long and full of tests, which is good because it ensures success, but it is bad for the cost and time.


“We have become much too careful, we are living in a risk-averse society. “ We do not like risks, but if you do not want to take risks, you have to pay. 


"I am not saying we have to fail at each launch, we have to put the cost for space products and services at the level of a normal sector because the space solutions are not in the competition between themselves, they are in competition with the ground solutions. "


For example, the competition is not between space operators, but between space operators and ground operators. For that, we have to decrease the cost.


  • Advance space exploration. The exploration of Earth’s surroundings takes much too long. It takes decades between an idea and the first data. We need to “Design solutions to go further and faster!”


Currently, to go to Mars we have a specific window of a few weeks every 26 months. We need more advanced systems that would not require us to wait for a specific window of opportunity when Mars is close enough to Earth.


Cooperation between private and public sectors.


There is a synergy between the private and public space sectors, as well as the traditional industry and startups which is normal as the objectives are the same. Both are there to deliver knowledge, services, and dreams, so the sectors are helping each other.


The public sector benefits from the cost of the private sector, but the private sector is benefiting from the market of the public sector. They need each other and space is here to unify the world, not to divide it. We should try to avoid separating the worlds.


Advising startups and inspiring new generations.


“I am as busy right now as I was when I was the director at the European Space Agency.”


Along with advising the space strategies of many countries, Jean-Jacques Dordain is associated with 15 startups. "I am looking to help the young teams and young people with big dreams."


In case the business case of a certain startup is not good enough, it might still create a really good technical solution. Even if the idea does not create value for your investors in the short term, there is a great chance it will create value in the long term, all these technologies which startups are developing will be useful.


What has been done in the 70s is not totally lost, because new ideas can start from these technologies and develop new solutions. These solutions had no business case then, but have it now. A great example is Elon Musk, he is using technologies that were developed decades ago and it works very well. What Elon Musk has done is - give a business case to a technology which has been developed decades ago.


What should happen in the coming years?


The dream is to move towards more global cooperation. It is a continuous work of the European Space Agency, to collaborate every day. Dividing space will be a step backward and we need a step forward. You can be enemies on the ground and have different interests but we all have common interests in space.


“We should use space as a laboratory for cooperation” 

Jean-Jacques Dordain


See you at the hackathon! 🚀


SPACETECH EUROPE Online Hackathon


Watch the full interview👇


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