The European Space Agency (ESA) is proposing to spend 22 percent of its total budget between 2006 and 2010 on launcher-assistance programs, mainly to assure the competitiveness of its Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, the Vega small-satellite launcher and a variant of Russia’s Soyuz launch vehicle that will be launched by Europe.

According to European government and industry officials, the total proposed financing for the five-year period will be 3.3 billion euros ($4 billion). The single biggest slice of that money will be dedicated to keeping Ariane 5 healthy and competitive against its Russian, U.S., Chinese and Indian competitors. ESA’s total spending for the same period is expected to average about 3 billion euros a year.

But programs designed for technical oversight of the Vega vehicle’s development and operations, and to cover the fixed costs associated with the Vega and Soyuz rockets in addition to those related to Ariane 5, also figure prominently in the proposed spending.

ESA’s proposal was circulated to the agency’s 17 member governments in mid-June in a document called “Status of the preparation of the Ministerial Council.” It will be debated in detail in the weeks leading up to a planned conference of European space ministers scheduled to occur in December in Berlin.

Whether the spending plan will emerge from the December meeting unscathed is doubtful. Previous ministerial meetings — which occur every two or three years — have featured numerous program cuts. It is a process that resembles what occurs each year in the U.S. Congress, but one that is condensed into a two-day meeting with sessions often lasting well into the night.

When asked to comment on the spending proposal, ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina cautioned that the figures are likely to change even before they reach the ministerial meeting in December.

The principal elements of the spending are:

  • European Guaranteed Access to Space. This program was agreed to by European governments following the December 2002 failure of a new, more-powerful ECA version of the Ariane 5. It reimburses industry for certain fixed costs associated with operating Ariane 5 from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana — costs that previously were paid by industry. Requested funding is 849.3 million euros between 2006 and 2010.
  • Ariane 5 Consolidation and Evolution Preparation. This will finance any modifications needed for Ariane 5, and will prepare for a major refurbishment of the vehicle forecasted for 2009. It also will finance specific modifications to permit Ariane 5 to launch part of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation constellation, and ESA’s Herschel and Planck science satellites, to be launched together in mid-2007. Requested funding is 251.7 million euros between 2006 and 2009, with another 126.4 million euros earmarked for additional elements of the same program.
  • Ariane Research and Technology Accompaniment Program. This effort, which has long characterized ESA’s launcher program, monitors the Ariane 5 vehicle performance and, when necessary, helps pay for launch-failure reviews and post-failure testing and design changes. Requested funding is 466.5 million euros between 2006 and 2010, plus 40.9 million that may be included for complementary activities.
  • Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment Program. The Vega small-satellite launcher, now in development, is scheduled to make its first launch in 2007 and to compete with vehicles currently commercialized by U.S., Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese and Indian organizations. It will be used to place Earth observation, science and technology satellites into low Earth orbit. This program will do for Vega what the Ariane Research and Technology Accompaniment program does for Ariane 5. Requested funding is 388.3 million euros between 2006 and 2011.
  • CSG Kourou [CSG] is the French acronym for the Guiana Space Center]. The Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana, is operated in a funding arrangement between the French government — French Guiana is a French overseas department — and ESA. ESA’s share is used to offset launcher-operations costs for Ariane 5, and ESA plans the same arrangement when Vega and Soyuz arrive at the space port. Requested funding is 413.3 million euros between 2006 and 2010.
  • Soyuz at CSG — Russia’s new version of the Soyuz rocket will be launched from the Guiana Space center starting in late 2008 under the current schedule. Operated from the equatorial space port, Soyuz will be able to place 3,000-kilogram telecommunications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit, and will also be used for European civil and military Earth observation satellites. Funding is being divided between ESA and the Arianespace commercial-launch consortium, which has received a French government-guaranteed loan from the European Investment Bank for its share of costs. Requested funding is 288.3 million euros between 2006 and 2008.
  • The Future Launcher Preparatory Program. European officials think Ariane 5 will be a viable commercial launcher at least until 2020, after which a new-generation vehicle will be needed. Early studies are focusing on expendable and reusable technologies. Requested funding is 378.8 million euros between 2006 and 2011.

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