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Europe launches space programmes on new high

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-26

Europe decided to commit 10 billion euros to its space programmes, increasing the previous budget by 20 %. Two key projects to benefit will be the International Space Station and the Mars exploration programme, ExoMars.

Ministers from 19 countries on Wednesday agreed to commit nearly 10 billion euros (12.8 billion dollars) to Europe's space programme, it was announced here.
The decision by the 18 members of the European Space Agency (ESA), along with Canada, included a compromise on spending for the International Space Station (ISS), which will become ESA's biggest budgetary item, sources said.
ESA Director General Jacques Dordain said ministers approved spending of 9.65 billion euros to maintain current programmes and launch future projects, added to which were 300 million euros in outstanding commitments.
"The council has been a complete success for ESA and for Europe," he said.
ESA's budget is allocated for present and planned schemes that can span a number of years, and thus does not run in specific cycles of, say, three or five years. The previous budget was approved in 2005.
In a press release, ESA said the meeting marked "a further step towards giving Europe the means to respond to global challenges."
"(...) The measures will further strengthen Europe’s role in the development and exploitation of space applications serving public policy objectives and the needs of European citizens and enterprises."
ESA had put forward proposals of 10.4 billion euros, but Dordain had said he would be happy with 9.3 billion.
The two-day meeting, begun on Tuesday, had been overshadowed by a debate over the ISS.
Building the manned orbital outpost has been hit by delays and cost overruns, all of them crimping Europe's ability to use it for the goal of scientific research.
Worried that a funding shortfall could further impinge on use of the ISS, Germany succeeded in securing a boost in spending to 1.37 billion euros to 2012.
But even with the additional contribution, the funds may not be enough to build all of the four contracted robot freighters, the Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs), designed to service the station.
Germany will be able to lobby for further funds at the next ministerial meeting in 2011 if funds are insufficient, said sources.
Another compromise emerged over the funding of a Martian rover called ExoMars, which was initially planned for launch in 2011, but was postponed until November 2013 and again, to early 2016.
Its cost has ballooned from 650 million euros -- the estimate in 2005 -- to 1.2 billion euros.
European countries will stump up 850 million euros, said Dordain, adding that he had promised a ceiling of one billion for the project. Talks are underway with the United States and Russia for finding the rest of money.
The meeting also gave the green light to the second phase of an Earth-monitoring system called Kopernikus, and 340 million euros for the first phase of work to develop a second-stage cryogenic motor to boost the lifting power of the Ariane-5 rocket.
France and Germany are ESA's two biggest contributors, accounting together for more than half of its budget.
Under the new spending programme, Germany will contribute 2.7 billion euros, and France just over 2.3 billion.

Date created : 2008-11-26