Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex A


  1.  ESA is an international space agency currently composed of 17 member states.

  2.  It depends for its continuing budgets on subscriptions from member states all of which are monitoring closely what is done and how it is being done. The overall ESA budget stands at around €3,000 million—small compared to $17 billion NASA budget. Despite this, it has been able to produce excellent space missions with the highest quality science and applications. The cost at completion of ESA missions in the science programme, for example, has generally been very close to the original budgets: in the science programme, for example, the average is a cost over-run of 4%. We are continually seeking to maintain this situation.

  3.  Subscriptions are made by countries to programmes proposed by ESA depending on the extent to which the country has an interest in the area. For the UK the subscription would come from the relevant government department or agency with the main interest in that area, or from the appropriate combination of BNSC partners. The programmes are overseen by ESA "programme boards", on each of which the UK is represented. The performance of the ESA Executive in managing any particular programme is scrutinised regularly and closely by the Programme Board. The UK has a reputation for being tough but constructive in our scrutiny. ESA programmes fall into 2 broad categories: mandatory and optional programmes.

  4.  Mandatory activities are those in which all Member States must participate and comprise the Science Programme, for astronomy and planetary science, and the General Budget, which covers basic research and the central costs of the Agency. These are financed by contributions calculated on a scale based on the net national incomes of the Member States. Currently UK contributes 17.7% of the mandatory programme budget—the 2nd largest contribution. It has a world-class reputation in space science. Mandatory programmes represent approximately a third of the overall ESA budget.

  5.  Optional programmes representing the major portion of the ESA budget are those in which each individual Member State chooses on a case-by-case basis whether they wish to participate and at what level. This structure enables each Member State to tailor its participation in ESA programmes closely to its own interests and is an important strength of ESA. The UK has used this facility to focus its participation very selectively in areas such as telecoms, satellite navigation and Earth Observation where it has real strengths and see important user opportunities.

  6.  ESA develops its programme and project proposals through meetings of member state representatives. Delegates from the relevant BNSC Partners attend these meetings where there is a potential UK interest. ESA Ministerial Council meetings provide the opportunity for member states to discuss future strategy and to subscribe to new ESA programmes and new phases of existing ones. BNSC Partners provide a careful analysis of each programme proposal, drawing on the views of the UK space community and relevant economic advice, before seeking agreement from Ministers or the Research Council to making commitments. The most recent Ministerial Council was held in December 2005. The UK played an influential role both on general strategic and policy issues as well as specific programme proposals of interest to it.

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