The post Space Shuttle age has not exactly panned out the way it was expected.
Probably as a result of the economic downturn of the last few years, we have seen first NASA reduce its mission expectations and now ESA, who meet today in Italy to determine mission budget allocations for the next five years. Realistically, the budget for ESA is expected to remain flat, with certain countries (notably the UK) looking to invest more and some less.
Where ESA will need to spend more is on the Ariane 5 and more importantly the expected replacement, the Ariane 6. With the US's SpaceX company now threatening the Arianne 5 on price, investment will have to be made in the short term to keep the Arianne competitive.
So what would NASA and ESA spend it on if they had the money?
Ultimately in Europe as in the US, we are seeing a shift away from the nationalised space projects, in favour of the commercial utilisation of space and this can only be a good thing. There are numerous companies involved now with the development of new space vehicles, satellites and drive mechanisms and progress made on fusion powered engines in particular in the last decade, is very exiting. Let's be clear we are not talking about warp speed. We are not even talking about a realistic journey time to our nearest stars, but progress nonetheless and once and if these new power sources become commercially viable, then the new breed of privately funded space companies will power this forward. It will then become a realistic proposition to send a manned crew to Mars, Jupiter and even beyond that.
Perhaps then the space age will be back on track.