PARIS — European governments in 2004 resolved their most pressing space-policy issues but were forced to delay until 2005 other matters that are just as important.
Emergency financial support for Europe’s Ariane rocket program was successfully performed by European Space Agency (ESA) governments, and the billion-dollar Rosetta comet-chaser satellite was successfully launched on a 10-year voyage.
ESA’s Mars Express satellite, despite being initially overshadowed by the media-friendly drama of the lost Beagle 2 Mars lander, proved to be as spectacular as hoped, even though the performance of its radar imager has yet to be validated.
The Smart-1 lunar probe also delivered the goods, demonstrating the capability of ion-electric propulsion on a small satellite built in part to remove the risk of later, more-expensive ESA science missions to Mercury and elsewhere.
The French space agency, CNES, successfully inaugurated a new small-satellite platform product line, called Myriade, aboard the Demeter Earth observation satellite, launched aboard a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket.
Set against these successes were several programs whose financial or technical challenges remained open as 2004 drew to a close. These include:
The Ariane 5 rocket’s enhanced version was not launched as ESA, CNES and industry engineers continued to wrestle with what program managers insist are relatively minor technical questions. Initially scheduled for early autumn, then December, the launch now is scheduled to occur in mid-February. If it is not successful, ESA governments likely will be confronted with still more Ariane 5-related bills.
ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain has asked for a fall-back option in the event of failure, but what that option might be is unclear and Dordain has declined to offer details.
Europe’s space station program, featuring the Columbus laboratory and the Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo tug, are both sucking finances from ESA and are not yet operational . The Columbus launch depends on the U.S. space shuttle’s return to flight, and ESA officials are hoping for a 2006 launch. The Automated Transfer Vehicle’s operation is tied to future crew levels aboard the station, and a late-2005 inaugural flight is not certain. “What we’re trying to do now is nothing more than a program-salvage operation,” said Genevieve Debouzzy, CNES deputy director for programs and strategy. “With this program we have come to a dead end.”
Germany, France and Italy are leading Europe’s space station effort. Unless they choose to take the dramatic step of quitting, these governments, and ESA, are bound by commitments to the other space station partners to continue to pay station-related expenses.
In the first example of what both sides say will be a relationship that will redefine Europe’s space mission, ESA and the European Commission, the executive body of the 25-nation European Union, continued to invest in the Galileo satellite-navigation project in 2004.
An agreement with the U.S. government on Galileo’s interoperability with the U.S. GPS system removed a touchy political issue, but Galileo’s schedule and costs remain unclear. ESA and the EU Commission agree that the program needs another 300 million euros ($390 million) in 2005 just to cover costs related to its ground segment and in-orbit validation.
A selection of Galileo’s private-sector operator, which had been expected by November, has been delayed until February or March as government negotiators and the two private-sector consortia bidding on the project debate how to apportion technical and financial risk.
The government negotiator, represented by the Galileo Joint Undertaking in Brussels, has negotiated a Galileo participation agreement with China, but the specific rights Chinese organizations will have with respect to intellectual property and hardware development are not clear.
Dordain has made establishing a predictable, long-term relationship with the EU Commission a cornerstone of his term of office. For Dordain, the commission is a source of future funding and political backing.
The political backing seems assured. Europe’s proposed constitutional treaty specifically mentions space policy as an area of EU interest. The new EU Commission that took office in November transferred space programs — except for Galileo, which remains with the Directorate of Transport — from the Research Directorate to the Enterprise and Industry Directorate, a move that European government and industry officials have applauded.
In addition, the EU Commission, which is increasing its focus on homeland security and defense, appears to be targeting space-based assets as a key component of the emerging strategy, even if financial resources have not been committed.
A joint ESA-EU space policy is scheduled to be created in 2005. EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, now the EU’s key administrator, said it is “not realistic” to set a goal of a large near-term increase in commission space spending.
Government and industry officials said some national government finance ministries are already hinting that they may use the EU Commission’s new backing for space to reduce their own funding to ESA. Dordain has said he will fight this tendency. Dordain’s future program plans are based on the assumption that ESA’s budget will remain flat, at around 2.7 billion euros, and that the EU Commission by 2007 will contribute an additional 900 million euros per year.