France Favors CNES with Better-than-inflation Budget Bump

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BEIJING — The French Research Ministry on Sept. 26 said the French civil space budget in 2014 would slightly outpace the current low inflation rate, with a big increase in spending via the European Space Agency (ESA) offset by a decrease in France’s non-ESA-related programs.

Presenting France’s overall 2014 research budget, the ministry said French spending at the 20-nation ESA would grow by 7.8 percent in 2014, to 854.4 million euros ($1.1 billion), to meet French commitments to begin work on a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket.

The overall budget for the French space agency, CNES, for 2014 is increasing by 1.3 percent over 2013, the ministry said, to 1.43 billion euros. France’s budget is generally divided into ESA programs and programs managed by CNES outside ESA, either as French national efforts or with other partners.

In the document accompanying the figures, the ministry said an increase at a time of overall French government austerity “confirms the priority accorded to this sector by the ministry.

“France, which is Europe’s leader in this area, is thereby giving itself the means to put into place the roadmap” for future spending agreed to by ESA government ministers at a conference in November 2012 in Naples, Italy.

The most controversial topic at that conference was whether to bypass further investment in an upgrade of the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket in favor of a new, smaller, modular vehicle called Ariane 6. Germany and France disagreed on this, and the result was that ESA governments agreed to fund initial work on Ariane 6 and further development of the Ariane 5 upgrade, called Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution.

The governments agreed to meet again in late 2014 to determine how to proceed. Since then the German and French positions do not appear to have converged.

The French ministry said the increase in ESA spending is a reflection of the commitment to Ariane 6.

The French space budget in recent years has not been a fixed target, making year-to-year comparisons difficult. The French Defense Ministry, which shares responsibility for CNES with the Research Ministry, is a major contributor to the CNES budget.

In 2012, the Defense Ministry asked that CNES return some of the previously allocated monies. The Research Ministry has made similar moves over the years when faced with shortfalls in other spending categories.

In addition, CNES is one of the government agencies that has benefited from a French public bond issue designed to stimulate economic growth. Earlier this year this bond issue, called the Plan for Investment in the Future, agreed to allocate 50 million euros to CNES for spending on a modified Ariane 5 fairing and a program to develop electric propulsion for satellites.