Europe Invests in Space
European leaders agreed on a relatively generous budget for the European Space Agency (esa) on November 21, announcing several important projects, including two Mars missions with Russia. At a time when the European Union is consumed with bickering about its budget, the agreement on space spending shows Europe sees it as a priority. “All sides are happy,” wrote Spiegel Online. It’s hard to imagine European nations coming to that kind of deal on anything else.
esa’s budget avoided being cut—it will receive €10 billion (us$12.8 billion) over the next three years. Britain voluntarily increased its contribution by £300 million, despite its push for cuts at home and in the EU budget. esa’s General Director Jean-Jacques Dordain called the new budget a “great success.”
The agency announced an agreement with Russia’s Roscosmos to send a satellite and rover to Mars as part of its ExoMars project. America pulled out of the project earlier this year, almost forcing esa to cancel the project after it had already spent €400 million (us$513 million) on it.
The head of international relations at esa, Frederic Nordlund, said the Russian-European agreement could be the first of many. “We have other opportunities to consider cooperation—for Jupiter missions, for example,” he said.
Russia will provide the rockets for the mission and in return receive instrument space on the satellite and the rover as well as access to the mission’s data.
esa also announced a deal with the United States. It will provide the propulsion unit for nasa’s new manned Orion capsule.
The meeting also solved a key dispute between France and Germany regarding Europe’s launch vehicle, the Ariane 5. Germany wants to upgrade to the Ariane 5ME (Mid-Life Evolution). France wanted to take a bit longer and create a more advanced launch vehicle, the Ariane 6.
The solution: Develop both. esa aims to get the Ariane 5ME ready by 2017, and the Ariane 6 by 2021.
More important than these headline-grabbing projects though, is that esa’s work monitoring the Earth with satellites will continue. esa signed an agreement to help create a third generation of weather satellites.
esa continually emphasized the economic benefit of keeping up its space investments. But the space industry is vital for the military too. Many of the EU’s projects have direct military applications. Satellite navigation is essential for a modern military. So are reconnaissance satellites. Even weather satellites are very useful for armies and navies.
Many of esa’s projects may lack direct military applications, but they ensure Europe’s satellite manufacturing and launching capabilities remain strong. Even in a tough economic climate, this is why space remains important.