Jean-Jacques Dordain. Credit: ESA

PARIS — The budget of the European Space Agency (ESA) is rising by 6.5 percent in 2013 on the strength of a one-time increase from Italy, the first year of the five-year increase promised by Britain and contributions from ESA’s two new members, Poland and Romania, ESA announced Jan. 24.

The commission of the European Union, which has hired ESA to manage several of the commission’s space programs, also accounts for a part of the increase.

For ESA, the bottom-line figure for 2013 is 4.28 billion euros, or about $5.6 billion. Nearly 73 percent of it comes from contributions from its 20 member states. Just over 21 percent is from the European Commission. The rest is from nations that have cooperating agreements with ESA, and from contracts ESA has for work it does on behalf of other organizations, notably the European meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat of Darmstadt, Germany.

The budget released Jan. 24 has yet to take on the full coloration of the 10 billion euros in new investments that ESA governments agreed to make during the next three to five years during a November conference of ESA government ministers. Nor does it fully reflect the shift in ESA priorities and in the relative influence of its different member nations that emerged from the conference.

But some of the decisions made in November are already visible. The first is the 25 percent increase in ESA contributions from Britain, which the government committed to maintain for five years starting in 2013. ESA is relocating its telecommunications directorate to Britain as a result.

Britain’s new ESA profile is likely to take it past Italy to become ESA’s third-largest contributor starting in 2014 with annual payments of 300 million euros through 2017.

But that is not the case this year. Italy, whose government budget crisis forced it to rein in much of its ESA spending during the November conference, nonetheless agreed to a one-time payment this year of around 50 million euros, much of it to cover work on ESA’s Mars exploration work. That will bring Italy’s 2013 contribution to 400 million euros.

A look at ESA’s budget chart suggests that Germany, which accounts for 24.8 percent of the total amount coming from ESA member states, is ESA’s lead investor, ahead of France’s 24 percent.

In strict cash-in terms, this is the case. But France’s ESA contribution tally does not account for the fact that France finances one-third of Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in South America on its own, and then takes a large share of the remaining two-thirds of the costs paid by ESA.

  • ESA’s Earth observation program, which includes the Earth Explorer missions, received far less than it had requested during last November’s meeting of agency governments to decide a multiyear program. But that budget will take a year or so to set in. Meanwhile, Earth observation is still ESA’s biggest budget area, especially now that it includes the start of the second-generation polar meteorological satellite program with Eumetsat. Earth observation accounts for 22.9 percent of the total budget for 2013.
  • Navigation, with 16.6 percent, is the second-biggest budget, with ESA handling the European Commission funding for the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing constellation that is in full development phase.
  • ESA’s science program is funded by mandatory contributions from all ESA members, with the contribution level set as a function of each nation’s gross domestic product. ESA governments at the November meeting agreed to keep science program funding at its 2012 level of about 480 million euros per year for the next three to five years, with no adjustment for inflation.

But because Poland and Romania are now contributing, albeit modestly, to ESA programs as full members, their additions to the science program funding increase that budget line by nearly 6 percent, to 508 million euros for 2013.

With the science program and the science element of ESA’s Earth observation program all but frozen at levels set in 2008, ESA will be hard-pressed to announce many new missions. And yet that is the agency’s core task, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said at a press briefing here Jan. 24.

“We are an R&D organization,” Dordain said, pointing out that the science and Earth observation programs would have no choice but to cut costs, and occasionally pull the plug on healthy satellites, to make room for new missions.

This is part of the reason Dordain has set a goal of reducing ESA’s overall internal costs by 25 percent between 2010 and 2015. These costs amounted to 685 million euros in 2010, with the goal of reducing that figure by 175 million euros starting in 2016.

Dordain said he calculates the reductions in terms of the percent of ESA spending devoted to internal costs as opposed to mission development. Several years ago, he said, internal charges consumed 20.8 percent of ESA’s total budget. That figure has been cut to 18.8 percent now, with the goal being to drive it down to 15.85 percent in 2015.

He stressed that by “internal costs” he is including indispensable ESA functions including laboratories and payload testing facilities that cannot be eliminated.

Dordain conceded that ESA, now at 20 nations and likely going to 25 or more in the coming years, is getting more complicated to manage, not less. In addition, the agency’s increasingly tight relations with the European Commission mean ESA is subject to a second series of audits, per commission rules — another cost item.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews.