ESA secures 16.9 billion euros in the ministries

PARIS — European Space Agency member states have provided the agency with 16.9 billion euros ($17.5 billion) over the next three years, a significant increase over 2019 but more than 1.5 billion euros below requested by the organization.

In a Nov. 23 briefing at the conclusion of the two-day ministerial conference here, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher announced that ESA members have agreed to contribute €16.923 billion over the next three years, a 16.6 percent increase—before inflation—from the previous ministerial in 2019. However, it fell short of the roughly €18.5 billion that ESA’s leadership sought going into the meeting.

“This is a very significant increase, but you have to see this figure in context,” Aschbacher said, citing Europe’s energy crisis, high inflation and economies still recovering from the pandemic. “Despite these circumstances, with inflation being so high, I have to say I’m very impressed with this figure.”

Despite falling short of its target, none of ESA’s top priorities were deleted from the budget, he said. They ranged from starting work on a lunar cargo lander that could join the NASA-led Artemis program and funding a share of the European Union’s IRIS² secure connectivity constellation to upgrading the ExoMars rover mission that was sidelined after the invasion Russia in Ukraine and the extension of ESA’s participation in the International Space Station until 2030.

“Nothing has been restricted. Some of them were slightly reduced in scope,” he said. “Nothing was to be deleted or removed from the portfolio.”

An example of a ‘subscription’ was ESA’s FutureEO programme, a suite of future Earth science missions. Simonetta Cheli, ESA’s director of earth observation, told the briefing that the program received about 80 percent of the request, but did not provide a specific number. He said the ESA would return to member states between December and February and develop a plan “on what can be implemented” given available funding and strategic priorities.

The same will apply to other programs that did not meet their requests, Aschbacher said, with discussions with member states contributing to those programs to see what can be done with the available funding. “We define it in work plans decided by the member states,” he said. “This is a formal procedure, a formal procedure, as we do every time after a ministerial conference.”

ESA provided few details about funding levels beyond top-level numbers for each of its major programs, and managers for most of those programs were not available for comment after being briefed.

Some programs received all the funding they requested and more. This included a €600 million request for a transition program for Ariane 6 as that rocket, which has suffered several years of delays, enters service in the next three years. ESA entered the ministerial committee to close a gap of almost 200 million euros. Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said in the briefing that the agency was “a little above what we expected” for the program, but did not give a specific number.

Aschbacher praised member states for their contribution. “Almost every country had a significant increase in their budget this year compared to last time,” he said.

However, there was also some confusion about the contributions of each member state. This included ESA’s biggest contributor, Germany, which provides €3.51 billion, up from €3.29 billion in 2019, according to ESA. However, a statement from Germany’s finance ministry claimed that the country provided 4 billion euros.

Anna Christmann, the German government’s federal space coordinator and chair of the ESA cabinet meeting, praised the result. “I am happy that we have a very good result from this conference,” she said. “I think we have shown what European ambition really is and what it means to work together to make these efforts possible.”

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