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Europe increases funds for space research

Europe plans to spend more on fundamental space research, start a new earth monitoring project and use European-built launchers in all its missions, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said on Tuesday.
/ Source: Reuters

Europe plans to spend more on fundamental space research, start a new earth monitoring project and use European-built launchers in all its missions, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said on Tuesday.

After two days of negotiations in the German capital, ministers of the 17 member states passed six resolutions defining ESA's budget for current and future missions, said ESA chairman and Dutch Economic Minister Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst.

"The political decision today will shape ESA in the future," Brinkhorst told a news conference, adding the agency was pleased that the amount of money earmarked for scientific programs had been raised by 2.5 percent for the 2006-2010 budget.

"We have broken a downhill trend after a long time. This shows that there is a political will and desire for the space program."

Member states of ESA are obliged to give a percentage of their gross domestic product toward the funding of mandatory activities such as space research, administration and education. They can also subscribe to optional projects like the International Space Station (ISS) or launch programs.

Ministers decided that their contributions for ESA's compulsory and optional programs would amount to 8.25 billion euros ($9.7 billion), 95 percent of what the agency requested, for projects from as early as 2006 to up to 2013.

In the past, ESA's average annual budget has been around 2.8 billion euros per year.

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) project received more than it asked for -- 253 million euros for the next two years.

Sentinel satellites
Under GMES, a network of sentinel satellites will collect environmental data that could warn of freak weather phenomena or tsunamis. While no immediate military use is planned, the application of the sentinels could be adapted, said ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina.

In one of the resolutions, the member states also committed themselves to favor European launch vehicles for all their national space missions.

The ESA resolution covers a range of launch vehicles like heavyweight carrier Ariane 5, built under the lead of Europe's largest space industry firm EADS, and smaller payload vehicle Rockot, a German-Russian project built and operated by Eurockot, a firm in which EADS Space Transport holds 51 percent.

In total, the member states awarded just over one billion euros to launch programs, a sum which has exceeded industry expectations.

"This is so much better than we expected," said one EADS Space spokesperson, who declined to be named. "For scientists and for the industry in Germany and in Europe — this is a very good result."