Status Report

Ariane’s Big Slice of ESA’s Space Budget

By SpaceRef Editor
November 20, 2001
Filed under ,

Since a space program without a launch pad is like car ownership without a
driver’s license, the 15 EU space ministers assembled this week in Edinburgh
at the behest of the ESA to finalize the Agency’s five-year expenditure
plan. They are likely going to decide to fund future Ariane development
pretty heavily. The decision will not be an easy one as money is tighter
this time around; ESA leadership would like to see the scientific research
portion of the obligatory budget (supplementary ESA activity is voluntarily
funded) increased by a few points for the first time in several years, but
money will probably be spent instead on keeping Ariane competitive. The
ministers are sensitive to rigorous efforts made by the Ariane company,
Arianespace, to reduce the price tag on new Ariane-5 launchers
(price-per-launcher for an upcoming fifty-pack will be half the price of the
first Ariane-5’s) as well as to European industrialists’ complaints that a
Guyana launch still costs them much more than the Canaveral price.

It is no
secret that the nearly $3 billion annual average allocation by the US
government for launching costs is the reason why, and EU space ministers
therefore are going to ante up for Ariane. Another stimulus is the
widespread belief that Ariane-5 Plus with its cryogenic re-ignitable engine
currently under development is a sure-fire way to keep ahead of the
(American) Joneses.

The Plus program, which promises by 2006 to deliver a
12-ton payload into orbit for the same cost as current smaller deliveries,
will likely get the $700 million it needs to become reality. Spending on
science programs and–even more so–on human space flight also faces
pressure in the form of the Europeans’ desire to keep some cash ready for
the tantalizing prospects of buying the Russian Soyouz and moving it to
Kourou, the ESA/Ariane base in Guyana. Tantalizing because it would mean
ready-to-wear technology for large payloads, keeping Soyouz out of US or
other hands, and inaugurating a new era in European/Russian aeronautic
cooperation (eventual participation in Airbus?). Science is not the first in
line in front of the voluntary programs window either, as the European GPS
program, Galileo, benefits from a strong consensus among member-states. Even
France, usually an advocate of space research spending, is lukewarm over the
Earth Observation Envelope Program (EOEP), one of the ESA’s showcase
research programs.

As the recent independent and scathing report on the ISS
shows, whether it’s half the fun or not, getting there is most of the cost
with manned space exploration (the main reason why Europe is cool and
growing cooler on same). In Edinburgh Europe is wrestling with the fact that
even in un-manned orbital space adventures, getting there is expensive. (Le
Monde, November 14, p27, Jean-François Augereau)

FAST is produced and written by Timothy Carlson.

SpaceRef staff editor.