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Italian space agency still in flux

Enrico Saggese

By Michael Banks

Yesterday afternoon here at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, I had a brief chat with Enrico Saggese, the controversial new commissioner of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Saggese was recently installed by the Italian government after it sacked his predecessor (and one-time Physics World author — Giovanni Bignami — following the mass resignation of the agency’s seven-member administrative council. The space agency is normally led by a president who chairs the council. But in August, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi replaced the council with a commissioner and deputy commissioner, discarding Bignami, who had been president, in the process.

I asked Saggese why Berlusconi changed the structure of the agency when Bignami was replaced. “There are situations which happen where you have to reorganise the agency internally”, Saggese explained rather opaquely, “but there are a group of people around me, such as a magistrate taking care of what I am doing, so I am not a powerful man.”

Saggese says that the new executive structure at the ASI will last around for another year or so. After that the ASI will have a president and a board of directors. “After this year, I hope to remain as president for a four-year period,” he revealed.

Saggese, who was the former boss of space firm Finmeccanica, was of course more interested to talk about the upcoming meeting of European space ministers in The Hague in November in which Italy holds the rotating presidency. The meeting will hope to set the course of Europe’s space programme over the next years. Ministers expect to approve plans for a European Space Agency facility at the Harwell business campus in Oxfordshire in the UK.

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