Julian Moxon/PARIS

France, Germany and Italy have called for major changes to the structure of the European Space Agency and are urging industry to take greater responsibility for programme funding in the face of "fierce international competition".

The space ministers of the agency's three most important contributors issued a joint statement on 17 June, calling for the urgent setting-up of a European Space Conference to "optimise the efficiency" of ESA and boost European space potential.

The three nations say that a major area of concern is ESA's policy of allocating work to member states based on their financial input to a programme - a process deemed inflexible and inefficient.

"We are convinced the situation demands a more closely co-ordinated and comprehensive strategy, to be determined at the highest political level, bringing together ESA, the European Union, specialised agencies, industry, research and user bodies," say ministers.

"For almost 25 years, the agency has been a major tool for the implementation of European space policy. Now, because of fierce international competition, Europe should upgrade its capabilities and pursue conditions of fair competition and equal access to markets."

The ministers are also urging industry to provide "convincing approaches and concepts for innovative services", and to take a more central role in funding when a programme provides the potential for financial returns.

ESA should also pay particular attention to cost control, with a consistent "design to budget" approach, say the ministers, and should improve its management and decision-making process.

The next ESA ministerial meeting in December - which has already been delayed by six months - is the likely venue for launching new programmes, but there is believed to be behind the scenes activity to set an earlier date for the so-called Space Conference, so that new policy decisions can be reflected in the future choice of programmes.

Source: Flight International