Since it came into being just over twenty years ago, the European Space Agency has developed a range of facilities for use in space and on the ground, which have been instrumental in making Europe a major space power.
As a result of recent political and economic changes in the international situation, European countries are having to refocus their objectives and adapt to those changes. Against that background, ESA sees its role over the next few years in terms of the following five objectives:
- continue and expand use of the space environment for scientific purposes;
- give European users autonomous access to space at less cost;
- make Europe a full partner in major world space infrastructure and exploration projects;
- promote new space applications such as satellite navigation systems and major risk management, and organise their transfer to operational and commercial entities;
- improve the competitiveness of the European space industry. With a view to achieving those objectives, the ESA Council meeting at ministerial level in Toulouse in October will take decisions in the four main areas described below.
1. Europe's participation in the international space station - this involves setting ESA's contribution to the station's development, assembly and operation.
In addition to preparations for using the station, the Agency's proposal has three constituent parts:
- the Columbus orbital facility (COF)
- the supply of launch services using Ariane-5 and the automated transfer vehicle (ATV)
- the start of studies on a crew transport vehicle (CTV). This proposal accommodates the Member States' political and indusrial interests as well as their budget constraints, which are:
- about 2600 million accounting units, at mid-1995 economic conditions, for the period 1996-2003, to cover the cost of developing the COF and the ATV;
- about 200 million accounting units, at mid-1995 economic conditions, for the period 1997-2002, to cover the cost of equipment required in orbit for microgravity activities;
- about 50 million accounting units, at mid-1995 economic conditions, for the period 1996-98, for studies on a manned transport system.
Europe's contribution to the international space station exploitation programme is currently under negotiation with its American partners. A rate of 5.3% is being taken as the basis for European users' rights to use the station resources in exchange for a contribution to common operations costs. This means that, at mid-1995 economic conditions, Europe's overall exploitation costs will come to 230 million accounting units a year once the COF is integrated in the station.
Europe will meet its share of common operations costs by supplying services based on the use of the Ariane-5 launcher carrying an automated transfer vehicle (ATV).
2. The Ariane-5 complementary programmes
Ariane-5 will be operational by late 1996 and the overall objective of the three complementary programmes is to enhance the success of the new European launcher:
- the ARTA (Ariane Research and Technology Accompaniment) programme is designed to maintain the reliability of the Ariane-5 system as a whole (at mid-1995 economic conditions, it will cost about 370 million accounting units over the period 1996-2000);
- The purpose of the Ariane-5 Infrastructure programme is to maintain production and launch facilities belonging to ESA (at mid-1995 economic conditions, it will cost about 320 million accounting units over the period 1996-2000);
- The Ariane-5 Evolution programme will enable the launcher to adapt to changes in market requirements (at mid-1995 economic conditions, it will cost about 1000 million accounting units over the period 1996-2003).
3. The 1996-2000 level of resources for the mandatory activities covering the science programme and the general budget.
The total amount of funding being proposed for the period 1996-2000 is 2569 million accounting units, at mid-1995 economic conditions, including 1751 million for the science programme.
The Agency's science programme is undoubtedly one of its most striking successes. It is based on the Horizon 2000 plan, which will be followed by Horizon 2000 Plus (ESA will be launching six satellites over the months ahead: ISO - the Infrared Space Observatory, SOHO, which will study the internal structure of the sun, and the four Cluster satellites for the purpose of plasma studies in the near-Earth environment).
4. Reform of the financial system ESA's financial system, which is based on the use of a special accounting unit, worked well as long as Member States' currencies did not fluctuate too much. But the cumulative effects of substantial devaluations of certain currencies call for a reform of the system through the introduction of the ECU as the reference currency for contributions from Member States and payments to contractors.
In addition to taking decisions in these four main areas, the ministerial meeting of Council will signpost the directions to be followed by the Director General in preparing proposals for future programmes, particularly in the following areas:
- observation of the Earth and its environment
- launchers - development of new technical concepts with the prime objective of reducing costs
- space exploration - a lunar mission and studies on small missions
- development and use of new technologies.
The direction the Agency is to take in its industrial policy will also be discussed at the ministerial meeting, which will pay particular attention to a readjustment of its main objectives:
- making ESA programmes more cost-effective
- improving industry's competitiveness
- ensuring that Member States obtain fair industrial returns
- taking fuller advantage of competitive bidding.
Finally, the ministers will be informed of the Director General's proposals for the Agency's internal operations and will reaffirm the importance of developing its relations with various organisations, spacefaring nations and other countries.