11/23/2008 09:27:00 PM
This week, ministers in charge of space activities within the 18 ESA Member States and Canada will meet in the Netherlands (on Nov 25&26) to decide what the future of the European space policy will be, setting out the start of future programmes and taking decisions on the next phases of on-going programmes.
Budgets for the next several years will be voted (this meeting does not happen every single year) and this is an especially important process for ESA because many programs are "optional", meaning that each country may add some money in a pot for one mission that they like, but in the end this mission would only be started if the leading country(ies) manages to convince other countries to add some money in order to match the final cost. Therefore, a lot of negotiation happens based on national priorities and skills (taking into account the "geographical return" rule starts here!) and the level of fundings for the optional program may differ significantly form one ministerial council to another. This is very different to the "mandatory program", where every member state funds ESA with a fixed percentage of its GDP.
This year, it will take place in an unprecedentedly favorable environment for the European space sector! Indeed 2008 was the year were Europe's achievements in space have been most visible, including the implementation Columbus module for the ISS and the very successful flight of the ATV.
Hopefully we'll see some nice projects being funded... The full program is available, detailed and explained here.
As for me, while I am very happy to see that an upgrade of Ariane5 is planned - namely the development of a cryogenic upper stage and a re-ignitable engine - I am quite disappointed to see that it is scheduled to be fully operational around.....2025!! When I read that, I was like...Seriously??? I mean, it took less time than that to plan from scratch a manned returned trip to the Moon - including developing SaturnV!!
I know we don't have the same resources and stuff...but still!!
.....2025??? For an unmanned launch vehicle upgrade?? If we really go on this path, we European space people may begin taking even longer than NASA when it comes to developing launch vehicles...and I can't imagine something like this to happen ;-)