EU Commission shoots for stars with increased space budget

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Wednesday it planned to increase its budget for space programs to 16 billion euros ($18.85 billion) between 2021 and 2027, aiming to consolidate the bloc’s role as a “space power”.

By hiking spending from 11.1 billion euros in the current budget and streamlining the EU’s space programs, the executive Commission said it hoped to boost a sector already contributing to some 10 percent of economic output.

“(The budget) sends a strong signal that the European Union, Europe is a space power and intends to remain a space power for a long time,” said Elzbieta Bienkowska, the EU’s Industry Commissioner.

The largest chunk of the budget would go towards the EU’s satellite navigation system Galileo, which would give consumers access to extremely precise positioning data that could also be used for drones and autonomous cars.

Other beneficiaries of the funds would be observation satellite program Copernicus and government communication system Govsatcom.

Beyond increasing the spending, the Commission also plans to simplify the structure of its space services and finance research programs into reusable launch vehicles.

European launch vehicle group Arianespace is facing increased competition for the launch of commercial satellites with the emergence of rivals such as tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.

“The EU will ensure that the increase in financial investment is supported by efficient decision-making so that all EU space activities are rolled out on time and on budget,” the Commission said.

The Commission added it would continue to rely on the expertise of the European Space Agency (ESA) but would also set up an “EU Agency for the Space Programme”, which it stressed would not compete with the former.

Although the EU partly funds ESA, the organization is not part of the EU.

ESA Director General Jan Woerner welcomed the Commission’s proposal.

“We are on track for United Space in Europe and for a United Europe in Space,” he said.

($1 = 0.8489 euros)

Reporting by Julia Echikson; Editing by Gareth Jones