Sarkozy Reaffirms Commitment to Space Spending

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PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Nov. 22 said he would maintain France’s space budget — including a $700 million public bond issue for rocket and satellite projects — despite pressures on public spending, arguing that Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis is no reason not to invest in the future.

Sarkozy said that under current plans, the annual budget for the French space agency, CNES, will have increased by 16 percent between 2007 and 2012, another sign that while his administration is looking for budget cuts elsewhere, the space sector will be spared.

“Space is a high priority for us because there is no French sovereignty if we ignore what is at stake in space,” Sarkozy said in an address at CNES’s Toulouse, France, site, where more than half the agency’s 2,400 employees work.

Sarkozy announced no new initiatives in his speech, and some of his remarks raised questions as to whether France’s current civil and military space spending program would be carried out as previously planned.

But coming at a time when France is at risk of losing its triple-A debt rating, and when the government is hunting for fresh budget cuts, the speech put the French head of state on record as saying that current space-related spending would not be curtailed.

“It would be crazy not to give this industry the resources it needs to develop,” Sarkozy said. France’s two biggest satellite prime contractors, Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space, have a combined 40 percent share of the global market for commercial telecommunications satellites, while the France-based Arianespace consortium has a 50 percent share of the global commercial launch market.

These companies and Paris-based Eutelsat, the world’s third-biggest commercial satellite fleet operator by revenue, derive 50 percent or more of their revenue from exports, Sarkozy said.

A multibillion-euro French government bond issue has set aside about 500 million euros ($700 million) for work on the next-generation Ariane rocket and on several satellite projects. The Franco-American Surface Water Ocean Topography mission has been tentatively granted 170 million euros. France and the United States have a history of cooperation in ocean topography satellites under the now-operational Jason program.

Some 40 million euros in bond money is also helping to pay for a Franco-German Earth observation satellite, called Merlin, to measure methane emissions.

A third satellite project would help French industry develop technologies for consumer satellite broadband in areas not now covered by terrestrial links. Some of this spending requires co-investment on the part of French industry.

Sarkozy said the post-Ariane 5 rocket would be receiving 220 million euros in financing, of which 83 million euros has already been released. The remaining funds, he said, would be “managed jointly with our European partners.” It was not immediately clear whether the second funding tranche would await co-investment by Germany, Italy and other European nations, or would be spent even if no partners agree to do likewise.

European governments are scheduled to meet in late 2012 to determine a multiyear space budget and program strategy. Whether to begin investment in a next-generation Ariane 5 is likely to be among the issues debated.

Sarkozy repeatedly said maintaining autonomous access to space through European launch vehicles remains “the cornerstone” of French space policy. He said no European government satellite should be launched on a non-European rocket until the other major space powers, specifically the United States and Russia, open their government satellite markets to European rockets.

Sarkozy said military space and civil space projects have always been closely linked in France, and that this would continue. He said France remains convinced that operational eavesdropping and missile-warning satellite systems should be launched, but neither project has won backing anywhere else in Europe.

The French arms procurement agency, DGA, plans to launch the experimental four-satellite Elisa constellation for localizing and identifying radar signals in mid-December. But an operational eavesdropping system, called Ceres, which Sarkozy has backed in the past, shows no signs of being built in the absence of support from other European governments.

 

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