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ESA budget infographic
Graphic shows European spaceplane Hermes.

Decision day for European Space Programme

November 20, 1991 - The 13 member nations of the European Space Agency (ESA) have decided to proceed with the programme that will establish Europe’s status as a space power despite a projected budget cut of five per cent in 1992. The 1991 budget was set at 2.9 billion dollars.

The ESA members must decide how best to proceed with projects that have exceeded budget, such as the Hermes spaceplane and the Columbus space laboratory. 1992 plans are likely to proceed but costs might be spread by running on into 1993. The Columbus laboratory is intended as Europe’s contribution to the international space station, Freedom.

Costs have spiralled since the decision four years ago to launch manned European spacecraft by the year 2002. Hermes has exceeded its budget by forty per cent and now stands at 7.6 billion dollars, and Columbus by fourteen per cent, at 5.3 billion dollars.

Until now, France and Germany have contributed the major part of the ESA programme’s funding – fifty five per cent between them – but Germany has had to absorb the enormous costs of unification and the ESA programme has of necessity slipped down the list of government priorities. Consideration for Germany is thought to be the main reason for next year’s budget cut. It is hoped that additional input from countries such as Japan, with huge resources to invest, and the Soviet Union, which like Germany has other priorities affecting its space programme, might be forthcoming.

Columbus is planned as a combined laboratory and living quarters for three people. At 12.8m by 4.4m it weighs 14,000 kg and will orbit 410km above the Earth. It will run automatic production units that will allow micro-gravity experiments to be conducted.

Hermes, named after the the winged messenger of Greek mythology, will operate like the American space shuttle. It will be launched by the Ariane V rocket, gliding back to Earth and landing on a runway after each mission. Carrying a crew of three, it will supply fuel and raw materials to Columbus, and bring back products from the laboratory.
Funding for Hermes has been supplied by France (43.5%), Germany (27%), Italy (12.1%), Belgium (5.8%), Spain (4.5%), Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Norway (all 2.9%), the Netherlands (2.2%), and Switzerland (2.2%). Canada also contributes 2.9%.

The Ariane programme, which has successfully launched 17 satellites and represents one of ESA’s greatest achievements, is assured of continued funds.

PUBLISHED: 20/11/1991; STORY: Julie Mullins