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ESA’s 2022 Astronaut Class Graduates

The 2022 ESA astronaut class poses with their certificates of graduation, the official documents that signal the end of their training and start as career astronauts.
Credit: ESA

On Monday, 22 April, ESA celebrated the graduation of its class of 2022 astronaut candidates. The ceremony, held at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, signified the successful completion of basic training for the five European astronaut graduates and the Australian Space Agency’s first astronaut, all now eligible for spaceflight assignments. These men and women of the 2022 ESA class, known as the Hoppers represent the next generation of European explorers, representing a wide swath of the continent. They also come into service at a crucial time for European exploration, one with multiple roads to the cosmos. It is now up to European governments to make the decision as to which road to take, and how this new cadre of astronauts will make their mark on history.

The Astronauts

ESA’s 2022 astronaut class represents a wide range of studies, disciplines, and encompasses the tremendous dedication to space studies that the continent has focused on in their advanced sciences sector. Each of the 6 graduates brings with them unique skills that will support and advance not only European space endeavors, but those of the broader Artemis Coalition that Europe serves – with the hopes of sending humans to the Moon and Mars in the next several decades. 

A French Air and Space Force pilot, Sophie Adenot studied flight dynamics at Institut Supérieur de L’aéronautique et de L’espace in Toulouse, before getting a masters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is France’s first female helicopter test pilot, and the second French female astronaut after Claudie Haigneré.

Pablo Álvarez Fernández holds a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of León, Spain, and graduated with a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Warsaw University of Technology (Politechnika Warszawska) in 2011. His work experience has seen him develop radioisotope heating technologies alongside Roscosmos for the ExoMars program and support a variety of ESA missions.  

Born in Northern Ireland, Rosemary Coogan holds several degrees from the University of Durham, UK. She completed her undergraduate degree in Physics in 2013 which focused on physics, mathematics, computer programming and astronomy. In 2015, she received her master’s degree in astronomy, where she conducted research on gamma-ray emission from black holes, and applied her research to data obtained from the James Webb Space Telescope. In 2019, Rosemary graduated with a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Sussex, UK.

Inspired by the Adventures of Tintin from his youth, Raphaël Liégeois studied biomedical engineering at the University of Liège from 2005 to 2011. During this time, he graduated from the École Centrale Paris through an exchange program in 2009, and earned a master’s degree in fundamental physics from the Paris-Sud University the following year. He participated in a physics experiment with France’s space agency, CNES, while studying in France, which served as part of his introduction to the idea of joining the astronaut corps.  

In 2009, Marco Alan Sieber joined the paratrooper training with the Swiss Special Forces Commando at the Swiss Army, where he achieved the military rank of Sergeant. In 2015, he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Bern, Switzerland. His doctoral thesis was on robotic surgery, and has since specialized in field medicine. 

A dual Australian and British citizen, Katherine Bennell-Pegg completed her studies in Physics and Engineering before undertaking an internship at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. After returning to her native Australia, she joined the newly founded Australian Space Agency. In 2022 she was promoted to the role of Director of Space Technology. In March 2023, the ASA announced that they would sponsor her training through the European Space Agency, making her the first full fledged Australian astronaut. 

The Path Forward

With the astronauts graduated and eligible for flight, they now will look to the ESA astronaut office to direct the very thing they have been gunning for – flight assignments. Many of these initial assignments may be to the International Space Station, which has served as the premier laboratory for collaborative science for the past 26 years, and hosted a wide range of ESA astronauts – most recently Crew-7’s Andreas Mogensen, who served as the first European pilot of a spacecraft. ISS access has been largely dependent on ESA’s largest partner NASA, who have provided the agency with seats since the breakdown in relations with Russia following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. This exchange is largely carried out through the Commercial Crew Program, with brokerage taking place between the two agencies for seats onboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. This arrangement in turn is supported by continued ESA commitments to a variety of projects, including Service Modules for the joint NASA/ESA Orion spacecraft, and elements of Gateway. This, however, places ESA in a competitive slot, with other agencies such as JAXA and CSA and other players vying for seats aboard American spacecraft. As of the time of writing, there are no current long duration assignments for ESA astronauts onboard the International Space Station until at least USCV-12, projected for 2026 – a nearly 2 year gap that many within the agency would view as unacceptable. 

Crew-7 on station after their arrival, with ESA’s Andreas Mogensen acting as Pilot for their Dragon spacecraft.
Credit: NASA

There is, however, a new way to access space in the modern age. Commercial spaceflight groups have emerged as a power broker of sorts, leveraging their industry connections to enable spaceflight access for a wide range of nations. Axiom Space, in recent months, has done just this – using their own capital to purchase seats onboard SpaceX’s Dragon for a short duration stay onboard the International Space Station. In the absence of the ultra-wealthy, governments have been keen to capitalize on tourist spots whenever possible, electing to fly their own astronauts for shorter duration missions. Such was the case with Marcus Wandt, who was pulled from the broader 2022 class of astronauts and fast tracked through training. In his selection for the Ax-3 mission, Wandt’s status was changed from “reserve astronaut” to “project astronaut,” becoming the first member of the larger 2022 class to fly. According to ESA: “Project Astronauts are hired as ESA staff on a fixed-term contract and have posts that are linked to a specific flight or project. These assignments can include missions of opportunity where ESA or its Member States want to send a European to space.” Such an arrangement, in the near term, may prove beneficial for ESA as they look to continue their presence on the ISS, given constrained schedules and difficulty in securing a seat. Speaking at the signing of the Artemis Accords by Switzerland, Astronaut Marco Sieber highlighted these multiple new avenues, stating that it was a “very exciting and dynamic time for European astronauts.”

Further afield, Europe has set their sights on contributing to the Artemis program, a 38 nation strong coalition focused on returning to the moon in the late 2020s. This ambitious effort aims to produce a regular cadence of astronauts exploring the lunar surface and cislunar space, modeling cooperative access in a similar vein to the work performed on the ISS. Recently, JAXA was awarded two astronaut slots on future landing missions alongside the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the development of a pressurized rover, a vital surface asset that will enable astronauts to live and work away from their lander. This agreement, similar to the seat rotation slots on ISS, is Japan’s method for paying for seats on Artemis flights. Europe, however, has so far not initiated the elements required to acquire seats on landing missions, instead focusing on their ISS brokerage to ensure continued presence in space as well as on upcoming Gateway flights. These surface elements, the large European Cargo Lander (also known as Argonaut) and the Italian Surface Habitat, will be the defining architecture components that enable European Artemis crews on the Lunar surface. Once these are awarded and further along in the process, it is likely that ESA crews will begin to receive their flight assignments.

Gateway has seen a number of contributions from Europe, including i-Hab, Lunar View and Lunar Link.
Credit: NASA/ESA

Domestically, there has been considerable interest for Europe to develop their own crewed spacecraft, going back as far as the 1980s with the Hermes and MRC programs. These programs ran into considerable financial and political strain, favoring a partnership with NASA in exchange for rides on the Space Shuttle. In recent years, following the success of the Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew program, there has been considerable interest in spinning up a similar program for ESA with several companies pitching their own vehicles to be used by European astronauts. Organizations such as The Exploration Company, Rocket Factory Augsburg, and Arianespace have all proposed cargo and subsequent crew evolutions of their designs to potentially bolster independent crew access, should they have a destination to serve and the political will to do so. The future of European spaceflight in a post ISS landscape is uncertain, and potential partnerships with partner agencies on programs such as Commercial LEO Development are yet to bear fruit. 

For now, it seems that the Hoppers will continue with the status quo, aligning themselves with the needs of their partner agencies to ultimately dictate access to space. In the near future, the status quo may shift – presenting new opportunities for Europe to make its mark on spaceflight as a whole. The future of access for organizations across the globe remains somewhat uncertain, but for the Hoppers the journey is only beginning, a journey that may see European boots on the surface of Mars.

Edited by Beverly Casillas

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