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European ministers debate space station expenses

Ministers take part in the European Space Agency Council meeting to debate space budget. Credit ESA

PARIS (BNS): Ministers in charge of space activities within the European Space Agency (ESA) Member States and Canada are holding a two-day meeting at The Hague, Netherlands, to implement the European Space Policy.

The meeting, which began on Tuesday, will chalk out the future programmes and take important decisions on spending nearly 10.3 billion euros budget spread over a period of three years.

On the first day, the 18-member states debated on funds for exploiting the space station. Funds needed for spending on the station was placed at 1.3 billion euros, which Germany feels is too little to cover the commitment of the entire Europe. It has sought a major increase in the amount after discussing the issue with France and Italy.

The space ministers of European nations have reportedly agreed in principle on the rest of the budget spread over the next three years though details are yet to be made available.

French research minister Valerie Pecresse was quoted by BBC as saying that she was very satisfied with the ministerial meeting which showed “a great ambition”. She said as compared to the previous meeting held in 2005, she expected a substantial hike in spending.

Among the ESA members, France and Germany are the biggest investors in space exploration, providing the lion's share of funds needed to run ESA's programmes -- the space station and the Ariane rocket programme.

While the allocation of more funds for the Space station was not taken lightly at ESA's Council Meeting, more funds for improvement of the Ariane performance was passed with least trouble. The ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain was confident that all difficulties would be overcome at the end of the two-day meeting.

For Germany, the space station is a key programme, with the Columbus science lab -- a focal point of managing the European element on the station. This is based in Oberpfaffenhoffen. Germany led the production of Columbus, and the contract to manage Europe's contribution to the space station is run through the German arm of aerospace contractor, EADS Astrium.

To maintain their part of the station, Germany has asked for a budget of 1.38bn till 2012, though claiming that it was little and needed more than 1.75bn to cover all the costs. Expressing their view, the German team said that the initial request would not cover the cost of building Europe's space freighters, the robotic ships that are needed for re-supplying the space station once the US shuttle fleet is retired.

Meanwhile, France has said that a budget for the Mars rover project is still short of what it needed to be. This hurt the British interest too. ESA plans to send ExoMars, a robotic rover to the Red Planet in 2016.

However, the French minister was happy that her country's priorities had been met and said France's contribution to ESA was set to go up from the 1.6bn euros pledged in 2005 to 2.3bn for the 2009-2011 period.

Earlier, speaking to the media, Dordain favoured an annual increase of 3.6 per cent in the subscriptions to help him give a free hand of 2.3bn euros to play with over the period 2009-2013. The ESA director had turned down the notion that global financial difficulties meant less investment in space. Dordain said that this was the right moment to take decisions, to make the future more secure and more beautiful than the present.

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