The 22-nation European Space Agency’s 2017 budget shows a 9.5 percent increase over 2016 and reflects some of the decisions made at the meeting of ESA’s governments in December, such as approval of new money for the ExoMars exploration project with Russia. This year’s budget shows the continued heavy investment in Earth observation programs, which remains ESA’s largest single investment line. The total budget of 5.75 billion euros ($6.1 billion) is composed of 3.78 billion euros from ESA’s member governments, plus nearly 1.7 billion euros from the 28-nation European Union and about 183 million euros from Europe’s meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat. Credit: ESA
PARIS — The European Space Agency’s 2017 budget reflects a 9.5 percent increase over 2016, with navigation, technology support and space situational awareness all getting double-digit percentage boosts.
Released Jan. 16, the budget also reflects some of the decisions made in December at a meeting of the 22-nation ESA’s ruling council. Notable results from that conference included an agreement to inject an additional 400 million euros into the Euro-Russian ExoMars exploration program.
The budget also reflects the fact that ESA governments in December agreed only to a 1 percent annual increase — with no inflation adjustment — for its administrative activities and, importantly, its science budget.
ESA administration and science together constitute an exception at ESA in that they are funded by mandatory contributions from each ESA member state, with contribution levels determined by national gross domestic product.
In addition, this budget line will be contributing 113 million euros to ExoMars as part of a budget compromise reached in December. Whether this will force the science program to delay planned missions remains unclear.
A 66% increase in navigation spending
The navigation budget line, fed mainly by the the 28-nation European Union, increases by 65.8 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. The European Commission owns the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network and has hired ESA as technical manager.
In 2017 ESA will be responsible for contracting for another eight or 12 Galileo satellites and launching four already-ordered Galileo spacecraft aboard a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.
ESA also has its own navigation program, called NavISP, but it is only a small part of the 2017 spending total of 1.01 billion euros ($1.07 billion) for 2017.
Total NavISP funding approved in December, which is stretched over three years, is 68.6 million euros. Germany is not taking part but has said it would join NavISP in 2018.
The boost for navigation likely won’t last but rather will be tied to the schedule of Galileo satellite and launch-service purchases. But for now, navigation is ESA’s third-largest budget line after Earth observation and launch vehicles.
Other domains getting sizable increases in 2017 include ESA’s Space Situational Awareness program, which focuses on space weather and the threat from near Earth object, whose still-modest budget is up 17 percent in 2017; and the agency’s Technology Support program, up 15 percent from last year.
France, Germany tied for lead, then Italy, UK, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland
ESA’s member states are contributing 3.78 billion euros to the agency in 2017. As usual, France and Germany are neck-in-neck in leading the group. In 2017, they each contribute 22.7 percent of the total.
In third position is Italy, which is lead financier for the Vega-C rocket now in development at ESA, and is also leading the ExoMars program. Italy accounts for 14.6 percent of ESA member states’ contributions in 2017.
The United Kingdom surprised many observers at the December ministerial conference by increasing its support for ESA despite the sharp drop in the British pound against the euro since June, when British voters opted to leave the European Union.
As ESA Director-General Jan Woerner stressed at a Jan. 18 press conference, Brexit will have little or no effect on Britain’s participation in ESA, even if Britain’s membership in the European Union is coming to an end.
For 2017, Britain is fourth among ESA national government contributors, with 7.9 percent of the total.
Britain is followed by Belgium, with 5.5 percent, and then Spain, whose 4 percent share of ESA member state contributions for 2017 is just ahead of Switzerland’s 3.8 percent.
1.7 billion euros from the European Union in 2017
The European Union is paying ESA nearly 1.7 billion euros in 2017, mainly to manage Galileo and the Copernicus Earth observation network, for which new satellites are scheduled to launch in the coming months.
Woerner said he was surprised at how attractive space investment was to so many ESA member governments, which promised a total of 10.3 billion euros in the coming years spread over the agency’s entire portfolio.
“I would never have dared predict 10.3 billion,” Woerner said Jan. 19. “My best guess before the conference was around 8 billion euros.”