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Historical Archives of the European Union

Russia, China, and European space diplomacy: fresh research in the ESA fonds

The European Space Agency Postgraduate Research Grant Programme, funded by the European Space Agency, was launched at the HAEU in 2022 to encourage research within the European Space Agency fonds. Dr Pawel Frankowski and Dr Tonio Savina have started new projects at the Archives thanks to the grant.

13 December 2022 | Research


In 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European University Institute established the European Space Agency Postgraduate Research Grant. The programme, financed by the ESA, supports scholars conducting research based on the ESA fonds held at the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU). Two grants are available each year.

Dr Pawel Frankowski, Associate Professor in the Department of National Security at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, and Dr Tonio Savina, who recently defended his doctoral dissertation at La Sapienza in Rome, are the first recipients of the grant.

Space diplomacy after the cold war

Coincidentally, both Pawel and Tonio are interested in the area of space research as a corridor of cooperation and diplomacy.  While Pawel is focusing on ESA relations with Russia, Tonio is looking at the relationship between ESA and China.

Pawel, who has previously published work on space and security, is using the ESA fonds for his new project ‘Choosing to collaborate: the role of norms in outer space in the ESA/Russia relations 1985-1994’.  

He will analyse the fonds to discover what kinds of instruments and actions towards collaboration between ESA and Russia were proposed or adopted, and their resulting outcomes. What he has found notable so far is the ESA officials’ reluctance to pursue partnerships during the period from 1990-1992, since ‘they were uncertain what kind of actor Russia, and the Russian space community, would be’. For Pawel, it is quite clear that the lack of adequate and proper information hindered collaboration in that period. On the other hand, an examination of successful programmes between ESA and Russia does reveal a distinct logic of cooperation. Beyond shedding light on the history of the ESA’s activities with Russia, the research will also be interesting for scholars of international relations and comparative politics.

Looking to another prominent space-faring actor, Tonio took up his ESA grant in November to pursue his project ‘ESA-China astro-political relations in the post-cold war era: an archival analysis.’

Tonio, who speaks Chinese and recently completed his doctoral dissertation The Chinese Space Program in Perspective: Domestic and Foreign Narratives, is pleased to start the research, aiming to deconstruct the political narrative that has dominated the historiography of ESA-China space relations up to now. While the project is still in its early days, he already has a sense that ‘space diplomacy’ has been one arena where actors, especially scientists, could circumvent the political obstacles between Europe and China.  

Space research at the HAEU

Both scholars will make return trips to the Archives in 2023 to complete their research, and express their enthusiasm about the ESA fonds and the assistance offered by the HAEU.

Remarking on the Archives’ research tools, Pawel said ‘My experience at the HAEU was fantastic.’  He especially noted the advanced search functions of the Archives’ database, which he stated ‘are a tremendous help for researchers’ in terms of accessing previous search histories and organising the research. Likewise, Tonio also expressed his satisfaction with the ‘rich set of documents’ available for his research, and the informed advice provided to him by HAEU archivists.

The next call for applications for the ESA grant will take place in early spring 2023.

Last update: 13 December 2022

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