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Sunday, July 02, 2006


Recently, on another blog I said that if NASA gave up 10% of its budget to the X-Prize Foundation or ESA gave all of its in the same cause we would quickly have a well developed industrialised space community. I have reported on the X-prize system previously.

At the time I had no idea of the size of the ESA budget & had assumed from the fact that it hasn't yet got a single man into space a major satellite presence or indeed anything much beyond a few space probes it had fairly token expenditure too.

Further checking shows I was wrong.
The budget of ESA was announced as E2.977 billion for 2005 (a ten percent increase on 2004) and for 2006 is estimated at E2.904 billion.[18] A large part of ESA's budget is invested in ESA's launch vehicles that are currently the most expensive part of ESA's activities (Twenty-two per cent of the budget goes into launch vehicles; human space flight is second in budget expenditures).......

Comparison with NASA
In comparison with NASA's budget of sixteen billion dollars (E13 billion), ESA's budget of E3 billion superficially looks considerably less. However in order to make a true comparison on funding levels between the U.S. and those European nations involved with the ESA, more factors have to be considered:

Unlike the US, many European nations maintain both ESA and national space agencies (see below). These national space agencies do have considerable budgets provided for scientific research and joint projects with ESA. For instance, the German Aerospace Center (German acronym DLR) has a separate budget for 2005 of E760 million [6] and the French CNES's own budget for 2004 was E1.3 billion. Taking the budgets of all national space agencies together and adding them to ESA's figures would more than double the amount spent by the United States for space related activities.
Some highly expensive European space projects are not within ESA's budget, such as the Galileo global positioning system. Funding for this E4 billion project comes from special agreements between EU members.
So ESA's budget is in theory a quarter & in practice about half of that of NASA. Considering that space enthusiasts generally consider NASA is getting an awful lot of paper & very little space travel for it's money ESA's achievement of zero space travel is remarkable even by the standards of the EU. Purists will note that ESA is not technically an EU organisation it is merely that thay have an overwhelming overlap of members but in practice the ethos is the same.

The comparison with the Chinese & Russian achievements is clear
In terms of absolute cash budget size, the ESA has the second largest budget after NASA, with the Japanese JAXA having annual funds of $1.6 billion at its disposal taking the third place, followed by the ambitious Chinese Space Agency with around $1 billion and the Russian Space Agency which incurred a considerable boost in funding in 2006 with an annual federal budget of $800-900 million
How much of this comes from the UK? This turns out to be a surprisingly difficult question to find an answer to. The best I can comes from the ESA site
Where do ESA's funds come from?

ESA's mandatory activities (space science programmes and the general budget) are funded by a financial contribution from all the Agency's Member States, calculated in accordance with each country's gross national product. In addition, ESA conducts a number of optional programmes. Each Member State decides in which optional programme they wish to participate and the amount they wish to contribute.

How big is ESA's budget?

ESA's budget for 2006 is an estimated E2904 million. The agency operates on the basis of geographical return, i.e. it invests in each Member State, through industrial contracts for space programmes, an amount more or less equivalent to each country's contribution.

How much does each European spend on ESA?

European per capita investment in space is very little. On average, every citizen of an ESA Member State pays, in taxes for expenditure on space, about the same as the price of a cinema ticket. In the United States, investment in civilian space activities is almost four times as much.

On this basis we are talking about someyhing like £350 million ($600M or E450). This seems to be somewhat contradicted by the Wikipedia article which says "In 2005, the three largest contributors, together funding two thirds of ESA's budget, are France (29.3%), Germany (22.7%) and Italy (14.2%)" since our GNP is almost exactly the same as that of France & larger than Italy's but I shall take that figure.

The question is could we do better with this money & the answer is unquestionably. The UK alone is 3/4 the size of the Russian & half that of the Chinese. Furthermore, since cutting edge space stuff is high tech & we are undoubtedly technologically ahead of China & probably of Russia we should theoretically be able to match them, at least.

Assuming, hopefully, that a $10 billion (£6 billion) X-Prize would get us to the Moon in 10 years Britain could pay for it from our ESA share +60% (including interest). Of course if it took longer it would cost less (if nobody gets there we have saved the lot obviously). The alternative is that 10 years from now we will still be a minor partner in ESA, an organisation still sitting on a launch pad hopeing someday to be able to a man into space, while being bypassed by the US, China, Russia, Japan India & Singapore.

And on a smaller scale
In 2001 the Scot Lib Dems asked around constituencies for a "blue skies" idea that would make an innovative conference debate without committing themselves to anything expensive & I suggested they offer a £20 million X-Prize amortised over 49 years for the first Scottish vehicle to soft land on an asteroid. Part of the point of such a prize is that it costs nothing if it doesn't work & in either case is likely to get satelite manufacturers considering setting up here.

Naturally they weren't interested.

A Scotsman article has said in passing that our contribution to ESA is £129 million but no background is given.

see also
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