Europe will strengthen its autonomy, leadership and sustainability in space, following today’s decision to increase the European Space Agency (ESA) budget by 17% compared to the last Ministerial meeting in 2019.
At the ESA Council at Ministerial level held in Paris on 22 and 23 November, government ministers representing ESA’s Member States, Associate States and Cooperating States resolved to together strengthen Europe’s space ambitions, ensuring a continuous concerted effort to serve European citizens.
Europe’s Independent Access to Space
Ministers confirmed that Europe’s independent access to space is crucial to secure the benefits that space brings to life on Earth – including climate change monitoring and mitigation, secure communications and navigation under European control, and rapid and resilient responses to crises.
By committing to future space exploration, Europe has also committed to advancing scientific understanding, fulfilling its potential and retaining its talent for generations to come. ESA is working to ensure that essential space-based services are secure, and that Earth’s orbital space is responsibly managed.
Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, said: “When faced with economic hardship, it is important to invest wisely in industries that create jobs and prosperity in Europe. Through this investment, we are building a Europe whose space agenda mirrors its political and future economic strength. We are boosting space in Europe, kicking off a new era of ambition, determination, strength and pride. Climate and sustainability will remain ESA’s highest priority, our science and exploration will inspire the next generation, and we shall build a place where European space entrepreneurs thrive.”
Robert Habeck, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action in the German government, chaired the ESA Council at Ministerial level. He said: “Today at the ESA Council at the Ministerial level, together with all the Ministers from ESA Member States, we secured a further step to strengthen Europe’s space infrastructure on which every citizen relies every day, ranging from climate monitoring satellites to navigation and telecommunication.
“We also approved an important set of projects that keep our orbits safe, inspire our young people, offer opportunities for small and large companies to succeed in Europe and further strengthen our reputation as a high-tech region that can attract talent. By acting together, especially in challenging times, we can ensure that Europe remains a leader in science, technology and sustainability.”
Dutch ESA contribution increases by 35%
Although small compared to the top-5 contributing countries, it is noteworthy that the Dutch government ESA budget contribution increased by 35% between 2019 and 2022, with the budget increasing from 345 million in 2019 to 465 million euro in 2022. With this increase, the Netherlands stake in the ESA budget grows from 2.4% to 2.8%.
The Netherlands is now the 8th largest contributor to ESA, that consists of 27 member states.
Climate remains a high priority for ESA Member States
Ministers agreed to devote €2.7 billion to ESA’s Earth observation programme. This includes funding for FutureEO, ESA’s world-leading Earth science, research and development programme that harnesses innovation and develops pioneering missions, while fostering innovative ways of using Earth observation data.
They committed to further developing the continuity of the space component of the Copernicus programme based on newly identified needs; the operational Aeolus-2 mission to measure global wind speeds and improve weather predictions; strengthening the monitoring of new essential climate variables and supporting climate action; the InCubed-2 initiative to support commercialisation in the Earth observation industry; developing a digital twin Earth model using high-performance and cloud computing or artificial intelligence; continuing the development of the TRUTHS mission, which will ensure the cross-calibration of data from various climate missions that underpin critical models; expanding the network of third-party Earth observation missions; and preserving essential long-term climate data sets.
They gave the green light to two ambitious missions: the next ESA Earth Explorer, Harmony, that promises to provide novel data to answer crucial questions related to ocean, ice and land dynamics, which have a direct bearing on risk monitoring, water and energy resources, food security and climate change; and MAGIC, a gravity mission that will observe the volume of water in oceans, ice sheets and glaciers in order to better understand sea-level change and to improve water management.
Science consolidates its world-leading role
With €3.2 billion of the ESA budget dedicated to the scientific programme, ESA is implementing the missions from its Cosmic Vision programme while preparing the new space science programme, Voyage 2050, which defines the broad vision of ESA science for 2035 to 2050. Member States confirmed the world-leading role played by the science programme, while recognising that difficult economic conditions eroded the potential for any large funding increases.
On time for launch in 2023 are Juice and Euclid, two ambitious missions that embody European leadership and collaboration. Juice will explore Jupiter and its ocean-bearing icy moons – studying where life may have formed elsewhere in the Solar System. Euclid will map a large part of the Universe, observing billions of galaxies through ten billion years of cosmic time, to unveil the secrets of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that together make up 95% of the Universe.
The funding will continue the development of ESA’s world-leading fleet of dedicated missions to study extrasolar planets – Plato and Ariel – set to launch in 2026 and 2029, respectively. Launching with Ariel will be Comet Interceptor, ESA’s innovative fast-class mission that comprises three spacecraft and will be the first to visit a truly pristine comet – an interstellar object that is only just starting its journey into the inner Solar System.
Boost to the ESA exploration programme and confirmation for the Rosalind Franklin rover
Space exploration offers a unique combination of cutting-edge science, technological innovation and inspiration for the next generation. Ministers approved €2.7 billion for the next phase of Terrae Novae, ESA’s new worlds space exploration programme focussed on three destinations – low Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars. Terrae Novae leads Europe’s human journey into the Solar System using robots as precursors and scouts.
Ministers decided to extend European participation in the International Space Station up to 2030, enabling ESA astronauts to continue working in orbit around Earth on board Europe’s Columbus research laboratory.
The next destination is the Moon and the major new element approved is Europe’s large logistic lander, Argonaut, which will be capable of routinely dispatching science payloads and cargo to the Moon throughout the 2030s. Ministers also agreed to start work on the next batch of European Service Modules. These elements reinforce Europe’s essential role in the Artemis programme, including the flights of three ESA astronauts to the lunar Gateway, and support Moon surface exploration, heralding the possibility for an ESA astronaut to set foot on the lunar surface. ESA will continue to work on building its elements of the Gateway, and to support the development of international lunar services with the Lunar Pathfinder satellite.
Looking towards Mars exploration, and with strong backing from the science community, the decision was made to build a European lander to take the Rosalind Franklin rover to the surface of Mars to explore whether life existed in the ancient lakes of the red planet.
The next steps were also confirmed for ESA’s cooperation with NASA on Mars Sample Return, a daring plan to return physical samples from another planet for the first time. Following the recent completion of the design work, full development of both the giant Earth return orbiter and the sophisticated sample transfer arm for the sample retrieval lander will begin. The first Mars samples have recently been acquired by the Perseverance rover.
Bolstering connectivity, security and sustainability from space
Some €1.9 billion was dedicated to improving life on Earth through always-on-everywhere connectivity. Most of this will be channelled through ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems, which seeks to foster innovation in the European space industry to enable companies to succeed in the highly competitive global market for telecommunications satellites and their applications.
The first step towards creating an EU-led secure connectivity system was taken with the funding of a new ESA programme. With €35 million firmly subscribed in the first phase, ESA will initiate the preparatory activities that will lead to the development and validation of a European constellation of satellites for secure connectivity. The second phase, for €685 million, is due to be confirmed in 2023.
Other funded plans include ESA’s Moonlight programme to encourage private European space companies to offer a lunar telecommunication and navigation service by putting a constellation of satellites around the Moon, and a new programme called civil security from space, which comprises a space-based rapid and resilient response for real-time crisis management to serve European citizens.
Future navigation technologies get the green light
Based on ESA’s achieved expertise in developing Galileo and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service for the European Commission, ESA’s FutureNAV programme will enable the Agency to respond to future trends and to the needs of satellite navigation in the field of positioning, navigation and timing, allowing Europe to stay at the cutting edge of satellite navigation technology. The next steps include an in-orbit demonstration of navigation satellites in low Earth orbit and a single satellite mission called GENESIS to reach unprecedented measurements of Earth and improved positioning performance.
The budget for navigation has therefore risen to €351 million. Additionally, ESA’s Navigation Innovation and Support Programme will continue to support the development of innovative positioning, navigation and timing technologies and foster commercialisation in Europe, the largest and ever-growing downstream space market.
Space safety to advance missions and technologies
With a rise to €731 million, the space safety programme will step up its efforts to protect Earth from hazards originating in space through missions including: Vigil to monitor the Sun’s activity; the Hera probe that will perform a detailed post-impact survey of the Dimorphos asteroid; and the first removal of an item of space debris from orbit, scheduled for 2026.
Space transportation becomes stronger and more environmentally sustainable
The ESA budget for space transportation has risen to €2.8 billion. ESA will further strengthen its Ariane 6 and Vega-C launchers, complete the development of the reusable Space Rider that can stay in low Earth orbit for more than two months before returning to Earth for refurbishment, and develop a green hydrogen system to fuel Ariane launchers at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, with the goal of eliminating carbon in hydrogen production by 2030. It will continue to mature critical technologies that underpin European capabilities while responding to environmental sustainability and cost-efficiency requirements, along with preparatory activities for the advent of human space transportation capabilities. ESA will also increase the efforts of its Boost! programme to help space entrepreneurs turn their space transportation projects into commercial reality.
Scaling up European technology and fostering commercialisation
Finally, the ESA budget for technology has increased to €542 million. Ministers have decided to start a new ESA programme called ScaleUp for supporting space commercialisation and the development of a new space ecosystem in Europe. ESA will work with European space firms to bring new technologies to the stage where they are ready for space and the open market through the “develop, make and fly” elements of its general support technology programme. The new ESA budget will help strengthen ESA’s independent and secure capacity to fly all types of missions by investing in new multi-mission infrastructure and next-generation ground segment capabilities developed by European industry.
Through its ScaleUp programme, the Agency will also aim to make Europe a hub for space commercialisation by providing business incubation, business acceleration, intellectual property and technology transfer services to new companies, while ensuring that business ideas scale up in new marketplaces and attract private and institutional investment.