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N° 17–1999: Ministers shape the future of European space activities

12 May 1999

Ministers of the Member States of the European Space Agency (ESA) today set challenging objectives for the future of European space activities and approved major new programmes to achieve them.

Meeting in Brussels on 11 and 12 May, the 14 member countries of ESA, together with Canada, which has a co-operation agreement with the Agency, approved investments in new space-related development programmes. Newly elected ESA Ministerial Council Chairman Lord Sainsbury, the UK space minister, told waiting international journalists :

The ESA Member States have given a great boost to the whole European space community. The new investments agreed will underpin the development of new jobs in multi-billion euro knowledge-based industries in the next decade.

Highlighting the adoption of the first phase in a long-term programme of environmental science, he continued : The agreement to embark on the Living Planet Programme is the first step towards providing an assured long-term programme of research which looks at the Earth and its environment from space. We are putting Earth sciences on a more equal footing with ESA's traditional strengths in scientific research.

Other programmes to receive approval from the Ministers included further enhancements of Europe's highly successful launcher industry, new developments in satellite navigation, satellite communications, particularly multimedia systems, and further preparations for providing Europe's contribution to the International Space Station in its early years of operation. The Ministers also agreed the budgets for the ESA Science Programme allocating EUR 1460.8 m for the period 1999-2002 .

The new programmes were endorsed against a background of agreement among the Ministers on four broad objectives for the Agency :


  • achieving and maintaining the highest quality science, developing technologies for world-competitive space industries throughout the Member States,


  • developing an integrated network of specialised technical centres belonging to ESA and national organisations, and


  • achieving and maintaining world-class standards in the management of the Agency and its programmes.

The Ministers emphasised the need to adopt new ways of managing programmes, transferring greater responsibility to industry and engaging in a range of partnerships. This approach was demonstrated most clearly in the decision to proceed with a full programme definition for the Galileo global navigation satellite system. This will be undertaken initially in partnership with the European Union, which is expected to decide on the programme in June, but the Ministers have instructed the Director General to bring in user and other commercial interests early in the development phase.

Closer co-operation between ESA and the EU in developing a unified European space strategy was evidenced by the presence during the meeting of the European Commissioners for Industry, Research and Transport. Mr Kinnock, the Transport Commissioner, welcomed the commitment to the Galileo Programme and said :I am very pleased by the enthusiasm which the space and research ministers of Europe have shown for the Galileo concept. The space interests of the EU and ESA are largely complementary and we are developing highly effective ways of working closely with each other. Navigation in land, sea and air transport is an excellent example of that - and the potential benefits for users and producers in Europe are massive. I am sure that there will be more examples in other areas of development in the coming year.

With a keen eye on Europe's future space policy, the Ministers welcomed the Report and Action Plan of the Long-term Space Policy Committee (LSPC) : Investing in Space : the Challenge for Europe. This report identifies three major challenges that Europe will have to face as it enters the new millennium - strategic independence, planetary management and expansion beyond present horizons. It also includes an Action Plan of 20 proposed initiatives as a first response for Europe to these three challenges in order to secure a leading position in the face of fierce international competition.

The Agency's Director General, Antonio Rodotà, was happy with the outcome of the meeting. The decisions taken here in Brussels will set the direction for the Agency for the next five years and beyond. We have made considerable changes in our working methods in the past four years, since the Ministerial Council in Toulouse in 1995. We have set in train a system of continuous improvement, and Ministers have rewarded us with a resounding vote of confidence. Most importantly, they have shown their determination to maintain a world-class European space industry in selected strategic sectors, and to continue their support for Europe's renowned scientific community. There will be many people in companies both large and small, throughout Europe and in Canada, who will respond positively to this exciting vision of Europe's future in space.

Notes for Editors :

The Ministers approved the Level of Resources for the period 1999-2002 (essentially the general budget and the science programme budget), a total of EUR 2.103.2 m (at 1998 economic conditions). This will enable ESA to implement its scientific missions.

There is an urgent need to ensure strategic independence for Europe in the field of satellite navigation. The Ministers therefore decided to commit EUR 58.4 m until end-2001 for the definition phase of the Galileo programme being developed in cooperation with the European Union, and already indicated an availability of EUR 178 m for the development phase which will follow (until end-2006). Aircraft, ships, trucks, trains, cars and ambulances will soon be « guided » and easily located via a constellation of European satellites. Europe will now be able to access the huge markets for related ground equipment and services.

The Ministers also recognised that European industry needs to increase its share of the worldwide telecommunications market. They therefore allocated EUR 260 m (for the period 1999-2002) to the development of multimedia and information systems, and EUR 30 m for preliminary studies of future systems in the period 2000-2005. Tele-medicine and tele-education are but two examples of the new fields in which space can help improve our quality of life.

Because space provides Europe with unique means with which to contribute to worldwide efforts to understand our environment and manage the natural resources of our planet, the Ministers decided to fund the Living Planet programme, with a commitment of EUR 593 m through to the end of 2002.

Europe also wants to be a strong and valued partner in the International Space Station. The Ministers therefore allocated EUR 298.5 m to the station's exploitation for the period 2000-2001.

Moreover, the Ministers recognised the importance of continuity in the European Microgravity Research Programme and approved the extension of the EMIR-2 programme for the period 1999-2003 allocating EUR 48 m.

To safeguard Europe's independent access to space and its leading position in the commercial launcher market, the Ministers committed to fund the Ariane-5 Plus programme, aimed at enhancing the performance of Europe's heavy launcher, with a total of EUR 533 m until 2001 (step 1 + step 2) . The Ministers allocated EUR 25 m for the extension of the Ariane 5 Infrastructure programme for 2001 and EUR 134 m to Ariane-5 ARTA for the period 2001-2002, so as to place Ariane-5 on an equal competitive footing and to maintain and consolidate its reliability. Moreover the future launchers technology programme received an allocation of EUR 54 m until end-2001.

Finally, subject to some specific conditions relating to further studies to be completed by October 1999, it was agreed to envisage funding of the second step of the development of the new small launcher VEGA.