Ministers To Consider 9.05 Billion Euros in Funding for ESA Space Programs
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 06 December 2005
04:24 pm ET

European Space Agency (ESA) government ministers will be asked to approve a diverse package of space-hardware programs worth a total of 9.05 billion euros ($10.6 billion) when they meet Dec. 5-6 in Berlin.

The ministerial conference — the first in four years — will review almost all of ESA’s activities, with the notable exception of the Galileo satellite navigation project, which needs no new funding.

The meeting will set policy directions and spending limits that, for some programs, will stretch to 2013. Among the initiatives the ministers will be asked to approve are:

– Annual budget increases of 2.5 percent through 2010 in ESA’s science budget, which means permitting the program to keep up with inflation and not much more. Even with this amount, European space science managers likely will be forced in the coming months to scrap or substantially delay one or more of the space science missions now being planned because of a shortage of funds.

– A space exploration program with two elements: a Mars lander to be launched in 2011 and a two-year research effort to explore whether Europe should join Russia in the development of the proposed Clipper spacecraft to carry crews into space. Russian authorities have recently added Clipper to their long-term program. Japan also is considering a role in Clipper alongside the Europeans.

– A technology-independence program designed to give Europe its own reliable supply of certain electronics components now provided almost exclusively by U.S. suppliers. Tightened U.S. technology-export rules that make it more difficult for satellite components to be delivered to European customers have stimulated the technology-autonomy drive.

– Three launch vehicle support programs totaling 850 million euros through 2010 for Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket and the new Vega small-satellite launcher, and a 250 million-euro contribution over three years to the fixed costs of operating Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana.

– Two technology-development programs to produce satellite platforms for future commercial missions in geostationary orbit. The large AlphaSat mission needs funds to develop its telecommunications payload, possibly with private-sector participation. ESA wants 300 million euros for that effort . An AlphaBus skeletal structure, or platform, already is funded by ESA and the French space agency, CNES.

Ministers also will be asked to allocate 100 million euros to develop, over five years, a small geostationary satellite, following a proposal from the German government. OHB-System of Germany and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Britain are both interested in developing small commercial geostationary satellites.

– A continuation of Earth observation satellites for scientific missions, including a replacement for the Cryosat polar-ice-monitoring satellite lost in a launch failure in October. This program, slated to run through 2013, is budgeted at 1.3 billion euros.

– A second Earth observation budget line for the GMES — Global Monitoring for Environment and Security — program, which is expected to be co-managed with the 25-nation European Union. ESA is asking only for commitments on a two-year, 450 million-euro first phase of this program to begin building replacements for the aging Envisat and ERS-2 radar satellites.

This year’s conference was to have confirmed a new direction in European space affairs, one in which the European Union acts as a strategic and financial partner to ESA in Earth observation, telecommunications, navigation and possibly security-related space spending.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain had based his long-term vision for the agency on a contribution from the European Union’s executive commission that would ultimately be paying around 1 billion euros per year for space activities of interest to it.

When added to ESA’s 3 billion euros in annual spending, this would be a force multiplier for ESA. The European Union would focus on user-driven space activities while ESA would provide research and development backing and technical expertise.

That may still happen. But the European Union’s budget for 2007-2013, which was scheduled to be approved earlier this year, has been stalled because of a wider dispute among governments about European spending priorities and government contribution levels.

The European Union reiterated Nov. 28 that it intends to make a sizable contribution to the GMES effort with ESA, but until the budget issue is settled, no financial commitments can be made.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.