More than €10bn pledged for European space programmes

The ESA rover during testing in Chile's Atacama Desert. [European Southern Observatory/Flickr]

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) member states have agreed to allocate €10.3 billion to new space projects. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Over two days of meetings in Lucerne, Switzerland, the space ministers of the ESA’s 22 countries plus those from Slovenia and Canada, agreed to allocate €10.3 billion “for space activities and programmes based on the vision of a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0”.

From this pot, €1.4 billion will go towards the use of the international space station (ISS) and the ExoMars 2020 mission, the project to explore the red planet, the ESA said on Friday (2 December).

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ISS and ExoMars

Jan Woerner, the director-general of ESA, said the agency would allocate more than €400 million to the ExoMars 2020 project and around €1 billion to the ISS, once ministers finally agreed to pursue the project.

The space station is a shared laboratory the size of a football field, where the French astronaut Thomas Pesquet has just taken up residence for the next six months. Europe thus joins the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada, which had already decided to continue using the station until 2024.

The aim of the ExoMars 2020 mission is to send a robot to sample the Martian surface in search of traces of past life. It was preceded by the ExoMars 2016 mission, which resulted in the successful placing of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) probe into orbit around the red planet, but also the crash of the Schiaparelli lander due to software problems.

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Financial support for the Kourou space centre in French Guiana

It was also good news for the manufacturers of space launchers. The ministers authorised a new financial package for the Ariane 5 launcher, ahead of the arrival of Ariane 6.

“As part of their support for European launchers, the states confirmed the Guiana Space Centre (CSG) as Europe’s space port by covering part of its fixed costs,” the French National Centre for Space Studies said in a press release published on Friday.

ESA will contribute €437.9 million to running the CSG over the period 2017-2021.

The ministers also approved the Ariane 6 programme, which had already been confirmed on 3 November, ahead of the conference in Lucerne. During this conference, the Italian, German and French governments signed an agreement to strengthen the cooperation between states and industry on the Ariane 6 programme, under the ESA umbrella.

And preparation for the future beyond the Ariane 6 and the Vega C launchers has already begun with the development of the low-cost liquid oxygen and liquid methane motor Prometheus.

Finally, funding was also allocated to innovation, the development of applications and industry competitiveness in the fields of space communications and terrestrial observation. Climate-monitoring satellites and a new generation of sentinel satellites for the Copernicus programme also received funding.

“Europe is giving itself the means to reach the forefront […] in the coming years, at a time of new competitors and uncertainties,” the French Secretary of State for Research Thierry Mandon told AFP.

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