Site: European Space Agency (ESA) Headquarters
8-10 rue Mario-Nikis
Paris, Cedex 15, France

Date Visited: September 10, 1997

WTEC: A.U. Mac Rae (report author), J. N. Pelton, K. Bhasin, S. Townes



ESA is a fifteen nation funded organization that has been established for the coordination of European space activities. Its 1996 budget was 2560 MAU1 with 21% devoted to mandatory programs, funded by all participating nations, 76% devoted to optional programs supported by one or more participating nations, and 3% funded by third parties. The mandatory activities enable ESA to carry out an important role as an R&D sponsoring organization in support of numerous scientific missions. The optional programs are in support of the development of a European space infrastructure leading to industrial participation in space programs. After overhead, each nation receives a minimum of 90% of its contribution in the form of space contracts in support of ESA programs. Until recently industrial contracts were 100% funded by ESA. New forms of cooperation are now being sought in programs such as the Telecommunications Partnership Programme in which industry obtains contracts for precompetitive sub-systems on a 50/50 funding basis with ESA. The ESA generic space telecommunications budget amounts to 300 MAU. ESTEC, as discussed in another site report, manages these programs.

In 1997, 25% of the total ESA budget was allocated to the launch program, with the Ariane 5 rocket program receiving less than 620 MAU. Another 13% was devoted to the international manned space program. The failure of the first flight of Ariane 5, with the loss of the four Cluster scientific satellites, and therefore the need to fix the root cause of the problem, followed by the need to repeat the first flight, has been an expensive undertaking and has put a strain on the ESA budget.

ESA is putting more emphasis on the potential industrial pay-off of its programs. Renewed emphasis has been placed on improving the "efficient expenditure of taxpayer money" by supporting programs that will provide long-term benefit to the industrial space activities of participating nations, to ensure that the European community is competitive in world markets.


In addition to the numerous scientific space missions described in the ESTEC site report, ESA is particularly interested in the use of satellites for navigation, especially for use by aircraft. ESA officials recognize the importance of coordinating their programs with the U.S. military sponsored GPS system, but are concerned that the military control of this system can lead to safety issues, as for instance, if GPS is turned off while a plane is landing under adverse weather conditions. Of course, this issue is of concern to most commercial applications of GPS throughout the world. ESA, in close coordination with the EC, RUROCONTROL, ESA member states and industry, is working toward the definition of a European position with regard to satellite navigation by early 1999.

As is the case all over the globe, spectrum is an issue in Europe. ESA would like to position itself to coordinate spectrum allocation and disputes within the European community rather than having each nation operate independently.

Duplication of space activities is a natural consequence of the increased space capability of member nations, especially in those that have a strong internal government and industrially funded efforts. ESA would like to coordinate some of these activities to minimize duplication. It orders France, Germany and Italy in the strength of their internal programs. Italy, in particular, is emphasizing R&D in the growth market of telecommunications and may pass Germany in the future. The U.K. has been developing a program in satellite based navigation systems and is expected to play an important role in that program.

As is the case worldwide, ESA recognizes the need to stimulate the development of multimedia and high bandwidth capability of satellites for Internet access. These ESA programs are described in the ESTEC site visit report. ESA representatives also believe that cooperative programs, such as the optical ISL program with Japan, enable them to utilize funding more effectively and would like to participate in other international cooperative programs. ESA representatives feel the need to be supportive of new technology, such as onboard processing and large antennas, for Inmarsat, which will be facing increased competition from the global commercial mobile satellite systems.


ESA is under increased pressure from its funding nations to improve the industrial pay-off of its programs. France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. are improving their commercial space programs to the point that they are becoming increasingly competitive on an international scale and thus are more willing to "go it on their own" to develop technology that gives them a competitive edge. Thus ESA recognizes the need to increase its support of pre-competitive technology programs.

1 MAU = "million accounting units." One "accounting unit" = value of European Currency Unit (ECU) (1 ECU +$1.20 U.S. dollars as of date of this publication).
Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian