ESA pledges €1.4bn for ISS membership and Mars mission

5 Dec 2016

Mars. Image: NASA Images/Shutterstock

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) commitment to the International Space Station (ISS) shows no signs of waning, but putting almost €500,000 into the ExoMars project seems surprising.

The ESA is the final partner agency to pledge its support for the ISS through to 2024, following NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Roscosmos in doing so.

Funding for ESA’s extension will be around €807m on usage and €153m for science projects involving ISS. This will also allow for more ESA astronauts to visit the space station throughout the term.


NASA is pleased with the move, with its administrator Charles Bolden saying he’s “excited” by the news.

“The ESA contributions to [the] station are essential, and we look forward to continuing to work with ESA, the Canadian Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Roscosmos for extended operations, and to collaborating with other nations to push the boundaries of human exploration, and extend our reach farther into the solar system, as part of the ongoing Journey to Mars.”

Both the ISS and Mars rover investments are part of a wider €10.3bn general investment pledge by member states, a significant sum considering the general EU economic situation.

The precursor to this meeting of member states was clouded by the €230m Schiaparelli mission, whose lander crashed into the Martian surface, with valuable lessons learned ahead of future landings in 2021.

But ESA’s director general Jan Woerner announced on Friday (2 December) that ministers from ESA’s 22 member states –plus Slovenia and Canada, which constitute the council – had agreed on “a big amount of money for the future”.

“It allows us to really go forward,” he said.

Roughly €430m will be added to the ExoMars mission, with a rover planned to land on the Red Planet by 2021. Should it all go to plan, the rover will drill into the Martian surface and extract samples from various depths.

“Today I am very confident that we will do it,” said Woerner. “We need to work hard because it’s not only some rover, we have the payloads from different sources – all of this has to pack together. It’s not an easy thing, but we are confident that we will succeed.”

The 1pc annual increase in the ESA’s science budget, which was agreed at the meeting, will be almost entirely eaten up by the ExoMars mission, according to Woerner.

€3.8bn of the total funding is planned for general ESA science, research and development up to 2021, €1.3bn for telecommunications projects until 2024, and €1.6bn for satellite launchers until 2023. Ireland will be putting in €90m as part of its role as an ESA member.

Updated, 5.17pm, 5 December 2016: This article was updated to clarify it was the Schiaparelli lander that crashed into the Martian surface.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic