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European space programme shows renewed vigour

Monday, January 26, 2015

Subject

Outlook for the European space programme.

Significance

The European Union Space Council agreed at end-2014 to develop a larger version of the Ariane 5 rocket, with a maiden flight scheduled for 2020. The agreement forms part of a five-year budget settlement for the European Space Agency (ESA). The overall package reflects the differing industrial and technological interests of the ESA's major funding nations, and follows months of wrangling between France and Germany that threatened to undermine Europe's position in the satellite launcher business. With the agreement to develop a new launcher, France has become the leading investor in the ESA.

Impacts

  • European governments have managed to cut a deal that so far satisfies all of the main players' industrial and technological interests.
  • However, uncertainty about the details and stability of the various commitments casts doubts over the credibility of the agreed package.
  • Member states have resolved many disputes, allowing for innovation to continue.
  • Still, austerity will keep pressure on costs, and may rule out the participation of some member states altogether.
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