ESA Wraps Up Ministerial Council Meeting

ESA’s 2012 Ministerial Council at Naples (Credits: ESA/S. Corvaja).

On November 21, the European Space Agency concluded a two day Council Meeting at the Ministerial Level held in Naples, Italy. The meeting resolved several looming issues facing the agency and established a 10 billion euro budget for the next three years.

Two big questions going into the meeting were the future of the Ariane rocket and whether ESA would accept NASA’s invitation to provide the Service Module for the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle.

The future of Ariane had become a bone of contention between France and Germany, the two states most vested in the launcher. France wanted to proceed with development of a new vehicle, Ariane 6, while Germany wanted to continue work on an interim vehicle, the Ariane 5 ME for mid-life evolution. Germany had already invested significant funds in the Ariane 5 ME, which is supposed to upgrade the Ariane 5′s lift capacity and increase payload dimension capacity. France preferred to stop financing the Ariane 5 ME in favor of the more versatile and flexible Ariane 6, based on worries that SpaceX may start nibbling into Ariane’s customer base. The resolution was in favor of Germany, but with the provision that the Ariane 5 ME’s upper stage be constructed so as to transfer directly to Ariane 6 upon its completion.

ESA also decided to move forward with supplying the Service Module for NASA’s Orion. “For the first time, ESA is developing a cruise vehicle together with NASA,” said ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina. The Service Module will be based on ESA’s ATV cargo ship that supplies the International Space Station. The historic move commits ESA to a long term cooperation with NASA in human space exploration. It was largely made possible by an increased funding commitment from the United Kingdom of 20 million euros towards the initiative. ESA has made arrangements with NASA to allow the Service Module to constitute ESA’s payment in kind for the ISS for 2017-2020. The move had generated some controversy due to the resulting designation of ESA as a subcontractor, which many feared would be off-putting to the general public.

The Ministerial Council also made some headway in establishing better coordination with the European Union, which has its own, sometimes competing, space program.

This was the first Ministerial Council meeting held since 2008. Since that time, two new members joined the organization – Romania in December 2011 and Poland on November 19, the day the meeting convened, bringing the total number of member states to 20. The next Ministerial Council meeting is scheduled for the spring of 2014.

Below, the meeting’s final press conference:


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