Ministers in charge of space affairs in Europe, meeting in Paris today, agreed on steps to put Ariane 5 back on track and set up development of future launchers within a reorganised launcher sector, free funds for the International Space Station and strengthen relations between ESA and the European Union, while Galileo has become a reality for Europe.
The Ministers responsible for space matters in ESA’s fifteen Member States and Canada have today held a one-day meeting at the Agency’s Paris headquarters. This was a follow-on from the ministerial gathering that took place in November 2001 in Edinburgh, where they had taken a number of important decisions on current programmes and new initiatives, with the overarching ambition to place space at the service of European citizens. Whereas the Edinburgh decisions had been implemented, new decisions were required now to help ensure that Europe remains at the forefront of space, especially in the field of launch systems, and that space is fully recognised as a key to efficient implementation of major European policies in such areas as transport, the environment, science, and security in the broadest sense.
The decisions taken today are critical to safeguarding Europe’s guaranteed access to space. The Ministers have helped ESA restore the competitiveness of Europe’s launcher system, restructure its launcher sector and prepare the future generation of launchers. In addition, they decided to unblock funds for exploitation of the International Space Station and reaffirmed their commitment to closer cooperation with the European Union.
In particular, the Ministers decided to support Europe’s commercial launch operator, Arianespace, in the resumption of production of the “generic” version of Ariane 5 in order to guarantee continuity in launcher operations. At the same time they decided to support the qualification of the new and more powerful version (ECA, for a 10t lift-off capacity) by means of two flights in 2004 and to reduce production costs further. In order to sustain Europe’s guaranteed access to space, the Ministers also agreed on a specific programme over the period 2005-2009 aimed at intensifying the institutional use of Ariane 5.
In addition to this first set of measures to overcome present difficulties in the launcher sector, which is undergoing a severe worldwide crisis, structural measures have been taken to secure the robustness of the overall European launcher sector, demonstrating political will to strengthen the sector.
First, the Ministers supported the need to reorganise the launcher sector so as to establish a strong link between production and development. They also decided to prepare for development of the next generation of launchers, thereby improving Europe’s competitiveness in the field, and to build up international cooperation. This cooperation, initially with Russia, includes operation of the Russian Soyuz launcher by Arianespace from the Guiana Space Centre, Europe’s spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, as from 2006.
Through the decisions taken today by the Ministers and the related exceptional and structural measures, Europe’s guaranteed access to space will be restored and its future will be secured.
Another subject dealt with by the Ministers was Europe’s exploitation of the International Space Station. At the previous mMinisterial meeting, in Edinburgh, part of the funds necessary for European exploitation of the Space Station had been blocked pending confirmation that the American partner would honour commitments it had given previously, showing that Europe was indeed willing to cooperate, but not at any price. The Ministers now agreed to unblock a first part of the ISS Exploitation Programme funds, to cover time-critical activities mainly related to the availability of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and to the European ISS ground segment. Timely availability of the ATV will help to make up for a reduced Shuttle fleet after the Columbia accident. The Ministers also addressed the relationship between ESA and the European Union, which has become a regular feature of the meetings at ministerial level. The first Resolution adopted at the Edinburgh meeting in November 2001 had reflected a very positive outcome with respect to this relationship, calling in particular for a framework agreement to formalise cooperation between the two organisations. Since then, this subject has received attention at the highest political level, as seen in the cooperation between the European Commission and ESA on drafting the Green Paper on European Space Policy and also in the possible inclusion of space matters in the revised mandate of the European Union, currently under consideration by the European Convention.
New steps have therefore been taken towards a closer relationship between ESA and the Union. The Ministers expressed their wish to see it deepened and developed further, and urged the Agency to complete, before the end of 2003, the framework agreement to form the basis on which ESA and the EU will work together permanently.
In addition, the Ministers noted that Europe is now in a position to finalise the conditions for participation in the Galileo navigation programme. The agreement reached among ESA Member States clears the way for the official launch of the Joint Undertaking between ESA and the European Union, the legal entity that will have the task of coordinating their cooperation on Galileo, the European initiative to develop a global satellite navigation system.
On the space science programme, the Ministers welcomed ESA’s Science Programme Committee’s decision on Rosetta’s new mission baseline: the spacecraft will be launched in February 2004 from Kourou, French Guiana, using an Ariane 5 launcher. The rendezvous with the new target comet, Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is expected in November 2014.
The cost of the Rosetta launch delay has created a cash-flow problem for the science programme, which is currently operating under tight budgetary restrictions, but this problem will now be resolved by the ESA Council, through approval of financial flexibility at Agency level. “This is a great day for Europe in general and its space community in particular. Conscious of the economic, industrial and strategic importance of guaranteed access to space and applications such as satellite navigation, our Member States have given fresh momentum to European space activities, demonstrating Europe’s continued resolve to remain at the forefront”, said Antonio Rodotà, ESA Director General.
Describing the outcome of today’s ministerial meeting of the ESA Council, Mrs Edelgard Bulmahn, who chaired the conference, said “the decisions reached are among the most important in years. The ESA Member States have provided the Ariane launcher system with the structures it needs to deal effectively with competition in a keenly disputed market. Thanks to the agreement on restructuring, policy-makers and industrialists alike can rely on planning stability over the years ahead. Responsibilities have been clearly established and price stability has been secured”.