Ministers of the European Space Agency’s member nations are meeting this week to grapple with a number of issues associated with the agency, including funding levels and plans for future programs. An ESA press release last week outlines those issues, ranging from Earth observation programs to proposals to develop a new upper stage for the Ariane 5 and and a version of the ATV cargo spacecraft that would be capable of returning cargo to Earth—a potential precursor to a European crew vehicle. The question will be how much money ESA members, including major players like France, Germany, Italy, and the UK, will be willing to provide, and for what specific efforts.
Meanwhile, last week the European Parliament approved a European Space Policy. The top priorities of the policy are the development of the Galileo navigation system and the Copernicus Earth observing program, but the document also includes provisions ranging from “a study on the impact of space tourism and its necessary relevant safety, security and regulatory framework” to “a large-scale effort of reflection on space exploration, defining a vision of what should be Europe’s position in, and resources for, future worldwide exploration endeavours”.