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Space Programs Facing Cuts in Seven-year EU Budget

The first Copernicus satellite, Sentinel 1-A, is on track to be launched this fall but funding issues may cause it to slip until early 2014. Credit: ESA artist's concept

BRUSSELS — European Union governments are scheduled to meet here Feb. 7 or 8 to review a budget for 2014-2020 that is likely to feature big cuts to a broad satellite-based environment-monitoring program, a 10 percent reduction in spending on the Galileo satellite navigation system and a scaled-back space research package, European government and industry officials said.

It is not certain whether the European Council will be able to come to an agreement. If it does coalesce around an overall budget that sacrifices space spending for agricultural supports and investment in Europe’s less-developed economies, members of the European Parliament said they stand ready to use their veto power.

Despite assurances from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that the total space-spending package for the commission will be nearly 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) per year for the seven-year period, few officials took that statement — made Jan. 29 — at face value.

In public and private statements made during the 5th Conference on EU Space Policy, held here Jan. 29-30, officials said the current budget picture looks something like this:

  • The Galileo positioning, navigation and timing project, which is well into development, will have to live with 10 percent less than its previously estimated budget of 1 billion euros per year. The current estimate is that the spending will be 900 million euros, or 6.3 billion euros over the seven-year period.

“It will take some rearranging of plans, but the fact is we can live with that,” said one government official familiar with the program.

  • The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program, now renamed Copernicus, is likely to see its proposed 5.8 billion-euro budget cut by 35 percent, to 3.8 billion over seven years, or nearly 543 million euros annually.

Expect a battle over this one. Backers say anything below 4.5 billion euros will cause gaps in service in future years, a prospect that will drive away prospective investors and compromise Copernicus’ promise of generating economic growth from value-added geo-information services.

  • Horizon 2020, which includes a large variety of space research efforts, has been penciled in at 1.4 billion euros, or 200 million per year. That may still hold, but some officials are bracing for cuts that could take this budget down by 25 percent.

Officials here said the good news for the space industry is that GMES/Copernicus, which the commission had removed from the multiyear budget to remain within overall ceiling caps, is now back in the larger package. But Copernicus and space investment in general — which the commission has identified as an engine for economic growth — appear to have taken a backseat to the commission’s agricultural-support program and what is called its Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund to help the least-prosperous regions in the 27-nation European Union.

The European Commission has made space technology one of its showcase investment focuses for the coming years, leaning on studies showing that such investment causes a huge multiplier effect in the broader economy.

But Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy and the Cohesion Fund retain strong backing among several powerful European Union nations despite the fact that neither is associated with economic growth.

Galileo and Copernicus are both well under way. Four Galileo satellites are in orbit and Antonio Tajani, the commission’s vice president, told the conference that the next two satellites would be launched this fall. The next group of satellites is being built by a different consortium from the one that provided the first four, and software-compatibility issues have delayed the launch of these new spacecraft.

Government and industry officials said whether the next two satellites can make a 2013 launch date will not be known until March or April, when they are scheduled to enter thermal-vacuum testing at the European Space Agency’s Estec facility in Noordwijk, Netherlands.

The first Copernicus satellite, called Sentinel-1A, is on track to be launched this fall but it too may slip until early 2014, industry officials said. European governments have invested some 3 billion euros into the program already, with the European Space Agency (ESA) providing much of the funding.

Until mid-2011, the commission had planned to invest 5.8 billion euros in Copernicus. Then it decided to take the program out of the funding package to prepare it for special budgetary treatment, a move that provoked a backlash among ESA and European Union (EU) governments.

In a Jan. 29 statement released here, Europe’s space industry association, Eurospace, and the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies issued a joint statement with an association of regional governments that said 4.5 billion euros is as low as Copernicus can go without compromising its integrity.

Backers of Galileo and Copernicus agreed that programs of this size and complexity can always sustain budget trimming without collapsing — to a point. But beyond that point, they said, the viability of the program is at stake.

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