PARIS – As European ministers meet to allocate funding for the European Space Agency’s programs for the next three years, the agency’s leadership is optimistic about gaining support for its priorities.
Ministers gathered on November 22 to kick off a two-day meeting where ESA’s 22 full member states and several affiliates will formally commit to funding programs from exploration to space transportation. ESA Director General Josef Eschbacher has presented a package of programs with a total cost of 18.7 billion euros ($19.2 billion), an increase of about 25 percent compared to previous ministers in 2019.
In remarks at the opening and plenary session, Eschbacher delivered what was essentially a closing argument, arguing that countries need to invest more in space despite challenges such as inflation, energy crises and ongoing wars. Ukraine.
We have to make bold decisions today. As I said before, we need to invest in the future because we are in a crisis.
Speaking to reporters late Nov. 21, Eschbacher and ESA Council President Anna Rotsmann said they were entering the ministerial meeting feeling more confident and better prepared than in past meetings, when last-minute deals were hammered out.
“It looks good,” Rotsman said after the final meeting to finalize the ministers’ resolutions. Of course, there are different opinions among the 22 member states, but I think they are very constructive. “There is a desire to really find a way forward.”
“I myself have participated in many ministerial conferences and I have never seen it happen so quickly and so soon,” Eshabcher said.
However, smooth planning does not guarantee that funding will follow. In these ministers, mostly behind closed doors, discussions and negotiations are held about the programs that the countries will subscribe to and with what amount. Among the key issues is a request for €750 million in ESA aid to the EU’s Secure Connectivity constellation, recently named Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnection and Security by Satellite, or IRIS².
ESA also needs 700 million euros to rebuild the ExoMars mission after cutting ties with Russia earlier this year, although the agency is seeking only half of that at this ministerial meeting. This would enable ExoMars, previously scheduled for a September launch on a Russian rocket with a Russian landing pad, to launch earlier than 2028 with European alternatives to those Russian elements.
While ESA is generally seeking a significant increase in funding, this funding is not evenly distributed among all programs. For example, ESA science programs will increase only enough to cover inflation.
This fixed funding comes after a small increase in ESA for science at the previous ministerial meeting in 2019 in Seville, Spain. “We all fought very hard in Seville to get this moderate increase, but inflation will wipe it out,” ESA science director Günter Heisinger said at a Nov. 21 briefing. “The economic boundary conditions are such that we cannot afford a big upgrade.”
He said the lack of funding will not affect missions in development, although one large telescope, the X-ray telescope Athena, is under renovation and could be delayed due to development problems and rising costs. ESA is instead delaying future missions, Hassinger said.
One reason for the disparity is that science programs are “mandatory” programs and all ESA members contribute to them based on their GDP. On the other hand, optional programs give member states more flexibility on what programs to support and to what extent.
Everyone believes that the academic program is very important. “On the other hand, the number of optional programs that really serve a good purpose is growing all the time.”
Speaking at the opening meeting of the Council of Ministers, Nicolas Walter, Executive Director of the European Science Foundation, raised his concerns about science funding. “We are concerned that reduced purchasing power will reduce the scope and scale of the program, including enabling technologies for future missions, and so we encourage increased investment as soon as possible,” he said. Waziri 2025
In opening remarks at the ministerial meeting, several member states announced their intention to increase their participation in ESA programs, although usually with little detail on how much the increase would be or how it would be allocated among these programs.
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who hosted the meeting of the Council of Ministers, told reporters before the opening session that he was confident ESA would meet its full request. “I am confident because I think that this space cooperation and this space vision is absolutely key for European independence,” he said. So I am absolutely sure that financing space and European ambitions will be a priority for all member states.”