German elections delay ESA shake-up
Apr 17, 1998
A meeting of the governing council of the European Space Agency that was scheduled to discuss the agency's long-term strategy has been cancelled.
The meeting was due to be held in Belgium at the end of June. However, Yvan Ylieff, Belgium's minister for scientific policy and organizer of the meeting, has announced that disagreements over the future direction of the agency, and the forthcoming national elections in Germany, have caused the meeting to be abandoned. The election is leading to uncertainties about how much Germany will contribute to ESA in the future.
Antonio Rodotà, director-general of ESA, has been trying to make the agency's work more relevant to industry, especially in areas such as telecommunications, multimedia and Earth observation, in an effort to attract funding from industrial companies. Rodotà is also keen to sub-contract the management of entire projects to the private sector in an effort to reduce costs. This new approach was to have been tried on EuroMoon 2000, a mission to the Moon, but ESA's board of directors cancelled the project at a heated meeting at the end of March.
Funding for space science has also suffered. Two missions - an infrared telescope called FIRST and the Planck mission to measure the cosmic microwave background - have been merged to reduce costs, and Mars Pathfinder is threatened with cancellation.
Only eight of ESA's fourteen member states have publicly supported Rodotà's new policies, but officials hope that a consensus on the agency's long-term strategy will be finalized before the end of the year.