The European Space Agency ESA is planning a new research location in Europe, in the middle of France - on the Céüse plateau. Climbing could be over by 2030. What is behind it and what can we do about the project? We're investigating the matter on Actiontalk TV's latest BETA show.

According to a feasibility study, ESA wants to build a new research site on the Céüse plateau. That would have far-reaching consequences for the region. The research area would have the size of around 420 football fields, various telescopes and instruments for solar future research are to be built, plus a campus in which around 500 scientists would live permanently.

From a climbing point of view, the project would be fatal.

The project would be fatal, especially from a climbing perspective. Due to the large dimensions of the project, large parts of the plateau, including the rock faces, could be declared a restricted area.

Alex Megos sends a series of sponsors into the desert

For me it would be an absolute disaster. That would be a huge loss for the entire climbing community!

Alexander Megos.

As part of Actiontalk TV's BETA program, we got to the bottom of the European Space Agency's plan and spoke to professional climbers Alexander Megos and Cédric Lachat.

News broadcast BETA: What's behind the planned closure of Céüse

These are the most burning questions and answers about the ESA project (source: save-ceuse.com)

Why is a new research area needed?

ESA has been planning the world's largest research program for solar future research ESOLEXT 2018 (European Solar Extinction Program) since 2030. 

The program is financed by the ESA nations with 14,4 billion euros and is intended to provide new knowledge about the sun and thus be relevant for future and climate research. 

What is research going on at ESOLEXT 2030?

The central question is how long the sun will shine before it burns out. So far, this number can only be roughly estimated at around 5 billion years. The sun is a gigantic nuclear fusion reactor. It consists mainly of hydrogen. Inside, the pressure and temperature are so high that hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium atoms. A tremendous amount of energy is released in the process. But the hydrogen supply is not infinite. The ESA would like to know more about the chemical processes on the sun's surface with the most modern exploration methods and hopes to be able to estimate with an error tolerance of only +/- 10 years when the sun will actually burn out. There is reason to assume that the sun could go out much earlier, even if the time horizon for human existence is not relevant (humanity is likely to die out earlier if the population continues to grow due to the scarcity of resources on its own planet). In addition, the question of the extent to which current climate change depends on solar activity should be investigated. According to the so-called Milanković cycles, the solar radiation reaching the earth varies periodically. The ESA is investigating whether the current climate change could have a natural and less human cause. 

Why was the location on the Céüse plateau chosen?

The highly sensitive telescopes and exploration instruments will be constantly pointed at the sun and will follow its course in the course of the day. To do this, they must be erected on a high plateau that noticeably rises from the more or less flat surroundings. Another prerequisite is that the location is in geographical middle latitudes, because here the sunlight hits the earth's surface at a favorable angle. In order for the sensors to receive the maximum amount of data, the solar radiation must arrive at a medium angle. (Closer to the equator, this angle would be too steep, the highly sensitive sensors would burn up. In contrast, the angle of incidence towards the poles would be too flat.) Locations in Germany and the Ukraine were also discussed, but ultimately everything speaks in favor of the French location: the relatively dry climate, the higher annual sunshine and the topographically favorable location on the plateau with all-round visibility. Geopolitical reasons are also likely to have been decisive: France is one of the most important and influential ESA nations, and the ESA headquarters are already in Paris.

What stage is the project at?

ESA would like to start construction in 2025 at the latest and put the facility into operation in 2030. Since the region lives mainly from tourism and agriculture, resistance from the population can be expected. An online petition against the project has already been started (www.safe-ceuse.org). However, given its great scientific importance and immense financial dimension, the project should enjoy the goodwill of Paris. The feasibility study has now been submitted to the French Parliament. If it is found to be suitable, it must be expected that the construction project will start in 2025 at the latest with massive restructuring of the region around Céüse.

Aside from the fact that it is terrible for climbing, the planned facility is simply ugly.

Cédric Lachat

What does the exclusion zone mean?

The recreational area on the Céüse plateau, popular with paragliders, delta sailors, hikers and climbers, would hardly exist in its current state. The feasibility study still provides that tourists can get to the plateau, but they have to move in the designated corridors. A publicly accessible viewing platform, a visitor center and a museum would be planned. The then prevailing distance measures are comparable to those at an airport: extensive fences should prevent unauthorized access, the airspace becomes a restricted zone. Céüse is a well-known and popular holiday destination across Europe, especially among climbers and alpinists. The feasibility study only provides limited information to what extent these needs, in particular access to the rock ledge below the plateau, are taken into account. Considered would be the option of the rock bar acting as a natural barrier to the terrain (although it would be forbidden to climb up the rock bar). Or that the rock bar would also be fenced in. In both cases, the rock area, which is popular with climbers, is likely to be severely restricted or, if necessary, made completely inaccessible.


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Credits: Cover picture Aups / CC BY-SA 3.0,

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