Last-minute arguments over workshare and industrial returns have frozen the expected release of funding for a package of major European Space Agency (ESA) programmes that had been agreed by space ministers in May.

Three programmes, one of which concerns the future of the Ariane launch system, are threatened by the disagreement at the end-of-year ESACouncil meeting at which outstanding issues - such as release of funding for previously agreed programmes - are traditionally waved through.

ESA insists it is "certain" the problems will be resolved at a supplemental Council meeting planned for 4 February. "If they aren't, there will be no Ariane," says the agency.

On 27 May, the biennial ESA Ministers meeting in Paris agreed to spend c970 million ($1.19 billion) to put the troubled Ariane 5 programme back on track and to set up a development path for future launchers to ensure Europe has guaranteed access to space. This was meant to be supported as a package that includes development of a Soyuz launch facility at the Arianespace launch centre at Kourou, French Guiana.

At the meeting, the 15 European ministers responsible for space agreed that funding ESA's launcher plans was "critical to safeguarding Europe's guaranteed access to space". Decisions reached at the meeting were described as "among the most important in years".

Participants at the meeting declined to reveal the exact cause of the dispute, but it is understood that they centre on disagreements between France, Italy and Germany over industrial returns. "They're looking for balance," says ESA. "It's a matter of give and take. There was a lot of work to do and the time ran out. We fully expect a satisfactory outcome in February."

Source: Flight International