• February 8, 2023

Europe’s research ministers to commit billions to ‘space race’

European research ministers are meeting in Paris to try to agree contributions to the €18.5bn (£16.1bn) of funding needed for future space activity.

On their agenda are missions to the Moon and Mars, and, closer to home, satellites to monitor the weather and encrypt global communications.

The proposed budget for the European Space Agency is a near-25% increase.

Finding the cash will be a challenge, however, given the big rise in the cost of living across the continent.

Governments may well be tempted to pull back on their space spending.

“This is true, but let me say the package we have on the table is found by every member state of Esa to be very attractive,” said agency director general, Dr Josef Aschbacher.

“No-one is saying ‘this is not what we should be doing’, and every country is making huge efforts to find the money, despite the economic situation,”

Member states of the European Space Agency meet every three years to agree an activity programme and the money needed to fund it. It’s a day-and-a-half of tough negotiations.

All countries have to support science research (€3.1bn is requested, over five years) but for other projects, nations will commit on a voluntary basis. And depending on their interests, they may decide to put in more or less than the figure that reflects their economic weight, or gross domestic product (GDP).

France, Germany and Italy have a particular interest in rockets (€3.2bn), for example. Countries like the UK have traditionally been one of the biggest backers of telecoms projects (€2.4bn), given its manufacturing strength in big satellites. And many want to help build Esa’s Earth observation (€3.0bn) spacecraft; likewise, participate in its human and robotic exploration missions (€2.9bn). Witness the current demonstration flight of the US space agency’s (Nasa) Orion capsule, which passed by the Moon on Monday. This vehicle, which will one day carry astronauts back to the lunar surface, is propelled by a module provided by Esa.

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Dheia Alhouraniz

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