The future direction of the space industry in Europe is set to be debated at the European Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial Council taking place at the start of December. It will look at the Space Strategy for Europe which we reviewed last week, and crucially will set ESAâ€™s budget for the few next years.
The Council is the governing body of ESA and each of the 22 member states is represented, plus Canada. The Council is chaired by ESAâ€™s Director General Jan Woerner, and he gave a press briefing in Paris earlier this week in advance of the meeting.
Sadly, I was unable to go to France for the meeting; but luckily Peter B de Selding from Space News was there and produced an excellent article which highlighted the key points including:
- ESA is seeking an â‚¬11 billion settlement
- Concern over the Norwayâ€™s proposed 75% contribution reduction
- The ExoMars Programme, which hit the headlines earlier this year when the Schiaparelli lander crashed on its descend to the Mars surface, has a funding gap of â‚¬400 million.
- â‚¬800 million is being sought to continue the collaboration with NASA on the International Space Station until 2024
The headline message on money is clearly the requested â‚¬11 billion settlement. In 2016 the ESA budget was â‚¬5.25 billion, of which almost 30% was income from the European Union (EU), Eumetsat and other programmes. The remaining 70% came from the contributions of each member state and Canada, and it is these future contributions that will be discussed at the Ministerial. This year the biggest contributor was Germany (â‚¬872.6 m), followed by France (â‚¬844.5 m) and Italy (â‚¬512 m) â€“ between them these three accounted for almost 60% of the ESA member state budget.
For us, Pixalytics and the UK, there were a couple of interesting points. Firstly, ESAâ€™s Earth Observation Envelope Programmes (EOEP-5) has had a 12.5% funding cut reducing their budget down to â‚¬1.4 bn for the period 2017 – 2025. Itâ€™s not currently clear what impact this reduction will, or will not, have on existing and planned activities.
Secondly, and for the second week running the blog has had to mention the B word. Weâ€™ve previously written about the fact that ESA and the EU are different organisations, and that Brexit does not directly impact our involvement with ESA â€“ a point reinforced by the Director General at the briefing.
Indirectly though, Brexit impacts, if not dominates, the political and financial landscape of the country and as such will have affected the discussions surrounding our ESA contribution commitment. For example:
- Dropping Value Of Sterling: The pound has dropped by over 13% since the EU Referendum, significantly increasing the cost to the UK of our ESA contribution which was â‚¬13.2 m in 2016.
- Budget Pressures: In addition to the drop in the pound, the UK Space Agency has to compete with every other Government Department for funding. Given the current austerity financial approach, coupled with the additional costs of dealing with Brexit, money is tight.
- Space Industry Profile: Every industry is currently fighting to get their agendaâ€™s onto Government Ministerâ€™s desk to ensure they get then â€˜best deal from Brexitâ€™. Space is no different. We may not have the London centre of the financial sector or the emotional impact of the farmers and fisherman, but we are a strong and important part of the economy.
We need Ministers to understand our industry, and to ensure that they support us as much as possible. This means, as we said last week, that we need to give a positive commitment to our ongoing involvement with ESA and a strong financial contribution at the Ministerial in Lucerne on the 1st and 2nd of December.
We await the outcome with interest!