At a conference in Seville (E), the 22 member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed on 28 November to increase the agency’s funding over the next five years to €14.4 billion. The larger budget will go towards putting the first space station in orbit around the moon, with the aim of sending European astronauts there for the first time, as well as an anti-asteroid system, 5G satellites and a black-hole mission.

Germany became the largest financial contributor to ESA, with €3.3 billion, while France and Italy provide roughly 20% and 15% of the budget, respectively. The UK, which will remain a member after Brexit, also increased its share. Member states  decided to allocate more money than requested to Copernicus, the ESA’s earth-observation satellite system, which has proved useful in recent months to help track floods and forest fires. ESA Director-General Jan Wörner expressed his entire satisfaction at the 5-year budget increase which was more than he had requested.

The ESA boss also announced that his agency will look into launching a mission to retrieve defunct satellites, in order to prevent them from becoming potential hazards – of the 4 500 satellites in orbit, only 1 500 are currently active.

Wörner also told member countries that “we will send Europeans to the moon”, which will likely mean even stronger cooperation with NASA on the Lunar Gateway space station, an international project, and the planned Artemis mission, scheduled to blast off by 2024. Artemis aims to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972 and also put the first female astronaut on the lunar surface.

ESA is still trying to catch up on its US counterpart in terms of achievements and financial impact. NASA’s budget for 2019 was three times that of the European agency’s.
Next year will see ESA launch its Ariane-6 rocket, a reusable successor to its highly-successful Ariane-5 model. The entire rocket series has put roughly 50% of the world’s satellites into orbit. The newest iteration is intended to continue that trend by reducing costs and introducing recyclability into the mix, which is a direct reaction to the efforts of other space powers, like China, and private enterprises, like Tesla-founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

As part of its collaboration with NASA, ESA will continue to help develop a module for the next-generation Orion spacecraft, a successor to the now-retired space shuttle, as well as working on ‘Space Rider’, which is described as “ESA’s new reusable spaceship”.

The increased space budget comes just as the new European Commission takes office, with space policy expected to be granted more money under the EU’s next long-term budget. A dedicated department, combined with defence policy, has been set up by the Commission, to be headed by the French Commissioner Thierry Breton.

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