PARIS – The French space agency, CNES, wants to freeze its contributions to the European Space Agency (ESA) budget after 2010 and increase the amount of money it spends on non-ESA programs.


Presenting the near-term priorities of Europe’s biggest space power here Jan. 26, CNES President Yannick d’Escatha said that when measured as a percent of national economic output French space spending is already double that of any other nation in Europe except Belgium.


As long as that is the case, he said,
is not worried that freezing its ESA contributions will result in a loss of influence on European space plans.


“If you freeze your spending at a low level, you might have a problem, but we are freezing our ESA payments at a high level,” d’Escatha said during a press conference. “I think we can agree that 685 million euros ($888 million) is a lot of money.”


The amount of money CNES contributes to ESA has been frozen at 685 million per year since 2005. It will remain at that level through 2010 under a multiyear commitment granted by the French government. During the same period, the non-ESA budget rises about 1.5 percent per year. For 2007, the CNES budget for non-ESA programs is 713.2 million euros.


Despite the spending freeze,
remains by far ESA’s largest contributor, accounting for around 25 percent of the space agency’s total budget.
, which devotes two-thirds of its space budget to ESA, contributes about 19.5 percent of ESA’s annual budget.


Even without a sizable budget increase CNES is no longer burdened by debt because of improved program management and its relations with the French Ministry of Defense – a source of CNES funding.


In addition, the harsh criticism directed at CNES by its ESA partners following a December 2002 failure of the Ariane 5 rocket has largely disappeared with the success of Ariane 5 since then.


The agency is still facing a delicate transition as it slowly reduces its work force from the current 2,500 – far more than even ESA – by relying on retirement, rather than layoffs. To keep its work force occupied, CNES has begun proposing that ESA and other European agencies hire CNES expertise. It is a policy that d’Escatha regularly promotes as a way of eliminating overlap in
‘s existing capabilities rather than creating new ones. But the policy has begun to encounter resistance.


“CNES has over 1,000 people in
and it needs to keep them busy,” one European government official said. “Everyone understands this. But Italian, German or Spanish taxpayers will not welcome the idea that they will help maintain CNES’s employment levels.”


ESA and the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, are expected to sign off this year on a new European Space Policy and d’Escatha said France is promoting the idea of including a kind of Buy European Act in that policy.


It is an idea long backed by
that was adopted in watered-down form in December 2005 by European space ministers. D’Escatha said European government institutions should agree at least to give “a strong preference, wherever possible,” to European sources when buying space hardware and services.


D’Escatha and CNES Program Director Stephane Janichewski also made the following additional points during the Jan. 26 briefing:


  • The launch of the French dual-use Pleiades high-resolution optical satellite system is likely to slip to 2010, an 18-month delay, following development hurdles on the satellites’ detectors and filters, d’Escatha said Jan. 26.


Pleiades, a two-satellite program to be used for civil and military Earth observation by the French and Italian governments, is also a joint project contracted to
‘s two big satellite prime contractors, Astrium and Alcatel Alenia Space.


The contract, valued at 314 million euros when it was signed in October 2003, is on a fixed-price basis. D’Escatha said the program’s delays will have no financial consequence for CNES. “That is the contractors’ responsibility, to be taken from the [financial] margins that were included in the contract when it was signed,” d’Escatha said.


  • The large Alphasat technology demonstration satellite, using a new, high-power platform financed by CNES and ESA, will probably not launch before 2011 – two years late. The satellite’s Alphabus platform is designed to provide up to 18 kilowatts of onboard power for satellites weighing up to 8,000 kilograms at launch.


Alphabus development includes financing by the two co-prime contractors, Astrium and Alcatel Alenia Space, also investing in the project. The first Alphabus mission, called Alphasat, will include a payload financed by a commercial operator to be selected by the middle of this year.


  • The maiden flight of
    ‘s Soyuz rocket from
    French Guiana
    likely will slip from late 2008 to early 2009 following a slower-than-expected completion of the large flame pit at the new Soyuz launch pad.