Julian Moxon/TOULOUSE

AFTER SIX YEARS of wrangling, the 14 members of the European Space Agency (ESA) have finally agreed on their financial contribution to the US/Russian-led Alpha international space station.

An ESA ministerial meeting at Toulouse on 18-20 October hammered out a substantial compromise, which overcame fundamental differences between France and Germany over spending priorities.

France can now pursue developments of the new Ariane 5 launcher, will have leadership of the automatic transfer vehicle for the space station, and can begin development of a crew-rescue vehicle, while Germany will lead work on the COF orbital laboratory. France has been forced to reduce spending on two major national space programmes, however.

A major stumbling block was overcome by solving Italy's objection that over the years it has not received enough work to compensate for the money it has paid into ESA. Italy will now receive more space station work than previously planned, allowing ESA to take advantage of the low value of the lira.

A space station budget of 1.4 billion European Accounting Units, (£1.75 billion), was approved by the ministers, to be spent between 1996 and 2000. Germany will provide EAU 600 million, France EAU 400 million, and Italy EAU 250 million, of which EAU 50 million will be in the form of an ESA loan, to help Italy over its present budget crisis. The other ESA countries will contribute EAU150 million between them.

An attempt by the UK to cut ESA science programmes by 25% was blocked, leaving the spending plan virtually intact, but linked to a 3% rise in inflation. France's own SPOT and Stentor satellite programmes will suffer cuts of around EAU 122 million.

See feature, P35.

Source: Flight International