Europe’s space policies have to major on activities that bring the most benefit to its citizens, says French research minister Valerie Pecresse.
She is holding two days of talks with counterparts from European Space Agency (Esa) member states to set the organisation’s budget to 2011.
A range of projects, such as new Earth-observing satellites, are expected to receive funding in excess of 9bn euros.
Mrs Pecresse said her nation’s cash would be carefully targeted.
It would go towards those programmes that delivered the greatest gains to society.
“Space is not only an industry; space is not only science and technology. Space is a whole range of applications and services that improve our daily lives,” she told BBC News.
“If we didn’t have satellites then everything would stop – communications, financial transactions, television, meteo, provisions. 24 hours without satellites is not possible in our 21st Century world.”
France is the biggest spender in Esa. It pumps in about 800m euros a year, making it responsible for about a quarter of the budget. It is in a position, therefore, to shape the agency’s goals.
To that end, the minister wants it to become less of a scientific or industrial “club”, and to become more focussed on the services it delivers to taxpayers.
Important programmes to receive investment from France at the meeting in The Hague will include the environmental monitoring initiative known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) which aims to build a full picture of the state of the planet from satellite and ground-based data.
France will also be putting more money into satellite-navigation and into the next evolution of weather satellites for Europe known as MTG (Meteosat Third Generation).
“All these applications are about space for the citizens, and they are our first priority,” the minister said.
Of key interest to France, too, is Europe’s rocket programme. Mrs Pecresse said her country would be financing efforts to improve the performance of the Ariane 5 launcher and the studies that would find its eventual successor.
“Without a launcher, there is no space policy possible,” she added.
France’s third priority is “big science”, as she puts it; and she highlighted one project that would see an advanced atomic clock flown on the space station to improve timing technologies.
The Esa ministerial will approve some 9bn euros of funding
As well as being the lead nation in Esa, France currently holds the presidency of the European Union; and over the past few months Mrs Pecresse has attempted to steer both organisations on to a similar track.
They are distinct legal entities which do not share the same membership; Esa counts some non-EU nations among its membership.
Nonetheless, the French research minister says space is now of such high political and economic importance that these two entities have to “converge” in the future.
“You cannot replace Esa. But, in the end I think, what is important is Esa working for the European Union, in which the member states have a political vision of what is the use of space for European citizens; and the use of space for European citizens is how space applications improve our daily lives.”
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