The European Space Agency (ESA) will have a budget of 6,490 million euros for 2021, compared to the nearly 6,680 million that was budgeted for last year, which is 190 million less. This was announced this Thursday by the future general director of the Agency, Josef Aschbacher, who has participated together with the current director of the organization, Jan Wörner, in the traditional press conference granted by the director at the beginning of the year to take stock of the Agency and present the main challenges it faces for the new year.

According to ESA plans, the bulk of the funding in this new year will go to missions on Earth Observation (1,439.9 million) and for Space Transportation (1,175.8 million). Both programs add up to 40.3% of the budget. Of the 6,680 million that ESA will have in its budget for this year, 67% (4,348.3 million) will come from the Agency’s member states and 25% from the EU (1,622.5 million). This year France will contribute a total of 1,065.8 million euros, which represents 23.4% of the total that the countries will finance. In second place is Germany, which will contribute to 968.6 million (21.3%), followed by Italy, which will participate with 589.9 million (13%), and the United Kingdom, with 418.8 million (9.2%) ). Spain continues to be the fifth country that will contribute the most money to ESA, specifically, 223.6 million (4.9%).

All Member States contribute to so-called ‘mandatory’ programs based on their Gross National Product. The other programs, known as ‘optional’, are only of interest to some Member States, which are free to decide their level of participation. The ‘optional’ programs cover areas such as Earth observation, telecommunications, satellite navigation, and space transportation. Similarly, the International Space Station and microgravity research are funded by optional contributions.

Worner has highlighted some ESA milestones carried out in 2020, such as the Copernicus mission, which is working “perfectly” or the “global challenge” that the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant. The still director general of ESA, who will take over from Aschbacher in July, also celebrated the launch in September of the 53 SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) satellites aboard a Vega rocket for shared flight service, as well such as the navigation applications of the Galileo mission, which already has 26 satellites in operation. “It is a great success for Europe, the EU, and ESA,” he said.

Similarly, he wanted to highlight the “Spanish industrial capacity”, which materialized last year with the launch of the Ingenio satellite. However, this mission, which was on its way to becoming a milestone as the first 100% Spanish satellite, failed. As Wörner has stated, the failure of the launch only shows that space is risky.

Concerning this 2021, Josef Aschbacher has advanced that the new decade of European exploration is already “a reality”. Thus, for this year, two astronauts will return to the ISS, and missions for three astronauts have been accepted at Gateway (support station for missions to the Moon and Mars). 2021 will also host the launch (by October) of the new James Webb Space Telescope – a joint NASA, ESA, and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) project to succeed Hubble – from the European Spaceport of Kurú, French Guiana. Webb will allow us to better understand the process of the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, and perhaps even the origins of life.

Also, NASA’s first Artemis mission will be launched later this year, bringing humans back to the Moon with the help of ESA’s European Service Module. Also in 2021, ESA hopes to bring samples from Mars to Earth, launch the European Robotic Arm (ERA) in May, which will be used to assemble and service the Russian segment of the orbital platform, and further develop a quantum communications infrastructure. In Europe, with the goal that minimum viable services are ready by early 2024. As Aschbacher has warned, Europe is now opening up to what it calls a “new space”, in which cost reduction, commercialization, innovation, Artificial Intelligence, agility, and flexibility will predominate.