European Commission Unveils Ambitious Space Spending Plan

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The European Commission has proposed spending more than $5 billion on space- and security-related programs between 2007 and 2013 as part of a major focus on research, but whether that plan will be accepted by European Union (EU) governments is in question, according to government and industry officials.

Several European Union governments have already indicated the proposed research budget is too high compared to the funding likely to be available, these officials said.

The commission on April 6 presented its 7th Framework Program on Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities to European heads of state and the European Parliament. An initial indication of whether the 25 European Union governments will accept the proposed spending levels is expected in June.

The seven-year package places “Security and Space” into a single budget category totaling 3.987 billion euros ($5.1 billion) as part of an overall research budget of 73.2 billion euros.

The commission also released figures saying the “Security and Space” budget line would be 3.5 billion euros over the period. A commission official acknowledged the confusion and said the higher number, which includes an inflation adjustment, is the correct one.

The Brussels-based commission does not suggest specific allocations between the security and space investment, but government and industry officials said they expect that over the seven years, the two categories would divide the allocation roughly equally.

“It’s safe to assume that space-related projects, which are better-defined at this point, will get a larger share of the funding in the early years, with security-related projects catching up toward the end,” one commission official said. “But as of now, there is no specific indication of which will get how much.”

What is clear from the proposal is that the planned Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program is the commission’s highest single space-research priority.

The Galileo satellite-navigation project is financed mainly from the commission’s transportation budget.

European Commission and European Space Agency (ESA) officials have estimated total GMES costs at 2.7 billion euros between 2006 and 2013, with the commission expected to take responsibility for two-thirds of that amount. If these estimates are correct, the space-research budget would be almost entirely devoted to GMES.

But as the commission makes clear in its research proposal, space-related investment could have a role in several of the eight other priority areas identified in the document, including:

– Information and Communication Technologies. The commission has evoked the role of satellites in spreading broadband access throughout the EU to reduce the “digital divide,” especially for the newer EU members.

– Environment. The European Commission has said it will play an active role in the newly formed Global Earth Observation System of Systems international environmental monitoring effort .

– Transport. Research on technologies for a second-generation Galileo satellite navigation system is included as a focus area.

“The commission has made clear that funding for space projects will be available in the research budget in areas outside the specific Security and Space category,” said Christophe Jacob, Brussels representative for Eurospace, which represents Europe’s space-hardware builders. “How much will be available will depend on specific project proposals.”

It is unknown what percentage of the budget will be reserved for projects co-funded by industry.

In addition to GMES, to which ESA is expected to contribute one-third of the funding, the commission says its space-research funds will be directed at projects that maintain the competitiveness of Europe’s launcher sector and toward space exploration.

The commission also has identified space surveillance “for reducing the vulnerability of space-based services and for contributing to the surveillance of space,” as a priority.

Most of these areas will be new to the European Commission, which is developing an overall space program scheduled to take effect in 2007.

Guenter Verheugen, the commission’s vice president, said the commission’s main financing for the future space program will be the research budget.

The 6th Framework Program on Research, which ends in 2006, featured a space budget totaling 235 million euros over its five-year duration. Verheugen had promised a big increase in the 7th research program and the document presented April 6 appears to deliver on that promise. The space-related portion of the total research budget could come out to roughly 400 million euros per year.

But a commission space budget of less than 400 million euros per year — even if it ends up being that much — will have difficulty matching the public ambitions of commission officials and ESA.

ESA officials have been counting on a commission budget that would approach 1 billion euros per year on the assumption that ESA’s own budget will remain flat. ESA’s biggest contributor, France, has reconfirmed that its ESA payments will not increase between now and 2010.