Startup boost in €16.9bn European space agency funding

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

The European space programme will see a 17% increase in funding to €16.9bn after a key meeting in Paris today.

The increase will see a new lunar lander, a new reusable rocket, a global digital twin and a new mission to Mars for the Rosalind Franklin rover as well as a ScaleUp programme for space technology startups.

The ESA Council at Ministerial level confirmed that Europe’s independent access to space is crucial for applications such as climate change monitoring, secure communications and navigation. This also includes programmes to beam back power to the ground from satellites in space.

An increase in the budget for technology to €542m will see a new ESA programme called ScaleUp for supporting space commercialisation and the development of a new space ecosystem in Europe.

ESA will work with European space firms to bring new technologies to the stage where they are ready for space and the open market through the “develop, make and fly” elements of its general support technology programme.

Through its ScaleUp programme, the Agency will also aim to make Europe a hub for space commercialisation by providing business incubation, business acceleration, intellectual property and technology transfer services to new companies, while ensuring that business ideas scale up in new marketplaces and attract private and institutional investment.

“When faced with economic hardship, it is important to invest wisely in industries that create jobs and prosperity in Europe,” said Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA. “Through this investment, we are building a Europe whose space agenda mirrors its political and future economic strength. We are boosting space in Europe, kicking off a new era of ambition, determination, strength and pride. Climate and sustainability will remain ESA’s highest priority, our science and exploration will inspire the next generation, and we shall build a place where European space entrepreneurs thrive.”

Robert Habeck, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action in the German government, chaired the ESA Council at Ministerial level. He said: “Today at the ESA Council at the Ministerial level, together with all the Ministers from ESA Member States, we secured a further step to strengthen Europe’s space infrastructure.”

“We also approved an important set of projects that keep our orbits safe, inspire our young people, offer opportunities for small and large companies to succeed in Europe and further strengthen our reputation as a high-tech region that can attract talent. By acting together, especially in challenging times, we can ensure that Europe remains a leader in science, technology and sustainability.”

Ministers agreed €2.7bn for ESA’s Earth observation programme, including FutureEO, ESA’s Earth science, research and development programme, boosting the Copernicus, Aeolus-2 and InCubed-2 observation programmes. It will also develop a digital twin Earth model using high-performance and cloud computing or artificial intelligence.

The meeting gave the green light to two ambitious missions: the next ESA Earth Explorer, Harmony, that promises to provide novel data to answer crucial questions related to ocean, ice and land dynamics, which have a direct bearing on risk monitoring, water and energy resources, food security and climate change; and MAGIC, a gravity mission that will observe the volume of water in oceans, ice sheets and glaciers in order to better understand sea-level change and to improve water management.

€3.2bn is dedicated to the scientific programme with the Voyage 2050 programme which defines the broad vision of ESA science for 2035 to 2050. It also funds the Juice mission to explore Jupiter and its ocean-bearing icy moons  and Euclid to map a large part of the Universe, observing billions of galaxies through ten billion years of cosmic time.

Ministers approved €2.7bn for the next phase of Terrae Novae, ESA’s new worlds space exploration programme focussed on three destinations – low Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars. Terrae Novae leads Europe’s human journey into the Solar System using robots as precursors and scouts.

Ministers decided to extend European participation in the International Space Station up to 2030, enabling ESA astronauts to continue working in orbit around Earth on board Europe’s Columbus research laboratory.

A major new element approved is Europe’s large logistic lunar lander, Argonaut, which will be capable of routinely dispatching science payloads and cargo to the Moon throughout the 2030s. Ministers also agreed to start work on the next batch of European Service Modules for NASA’s Artemis programme, including the flights of three ESA astronauts to the lunar Gateway, and support Moon surface exploration.

The meeting also agreed to build a European lander to take the Rosalind Franklin rover to the surface of Mars to explore whether life existed in the ancient lakes of the red planet. The joint Mars rover mission with Russia collapsed after the invasion of Ukraine.

The next steps were also confirmed for ESA’s cooperation with NASA on Mars Sample Return to return physical samples currently being collected. Full development of both the giant Earth return orbiter and the sophisticated sample transfer arm for the sample retrieval lander will begin.

Some €1.9bn will be channelled through ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems. €35m is being used for the first phase of the constellation of satellites for secure connectivity, with the second phase, for €685 million, is due to be confirmed in 2023.

Other funded plans include ESA’s Moonlight programme to encourage private European space companies to offer a lunar telecommunication and navigation service by putting a constellation of satellites around the Moon, and a new programme called civil security from space, which comprises a space-based rapid and resilient response for real-time crisis management.

The ESA budget for space transportation, with the Ariane 6 and Vega-C launchers, has risen to €2.8 billion. ESA also plans to complete the development of the reusable Space Rider that can stay in low Earth orbit for more than two months before returning to Earth for refurbishment, and develop a green hydrogen system to fuel Ariane launchers at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, with the goal of eliminating carbon in hydrogen production by 2030.


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