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ESA Meets in Berlin to Discuss Future Space Programs

The European Space Agency (ESA) gathers in Berlin Monday to talk about the focus of European space exploration in coming years. Germany's space lobby meanwhile wants more government money.

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Where will ESA head in the future?

ESA's ministerial meeting will be headed by German Economics Minister Michael Glos, who currently heads the body.

"This high-tech sector is important for Germany and Europe," Glos said ahead of the talks, adding that space exploration was an important economic factor and had clear benefits for people such as helping with protection against catastrophes and monitoring climate change.

Wirtschaftsminister Michael Glos

Michael Glos

Glos will be closely watched by Germany's space lobby, which is hoping that the new government of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats will increase Germany's financial contribution both to the European and German space sectors.

Hans-Joachim Gante, the executive director of the Federal Association of German Air and Space Industries, said the government should increase its annual contribution to ESA by 50 million euros ($58.5 million) to 600 million euros and add another 50 million to national space programs, which would then come to 200 million euros.

"This is the only way to prevent the downfall of Germany's space industry," Gante told journalists, adding that he hoped the country would now be governed by a "rocket Chancelloress" Angela Merkel after "car Chancellor" Gerhard Schröder.

However, German representatives are likely to tell other ESA member countries that Berlin contributes too much while the country's space industry is not considered enough for contracts.

"The principle of recycling the money back into the industry has got skewed," said Matthias Gründer of Flugrevue magazine. "Germany is paying more into ESA than it is getting in the way of contracts."

Billio n s for n ew programs

At the Berlin meeting, Glos and his colleagues will focus on the basic direction ESA is meant to take in coming years.

ESA officials are asking member states, which include 17 European nations and Canada, to contribute 8.8 billion euros for programs, according to a BBC report.

Neil Armstrong mit EU Flagge auf dem Mond Fotomontage

Europeans dream of sending someone to the Moon

Some of the programs under discussion are the so-called ExoMars mission, which would take off in 2011 and put a lander on the planet; preparation programs for later manned missions to the Moon and Mars; more funding for a satellite program that monitors the state of Earth; and the so-called Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program.

Rockets used in space programs such as those used for launching satellites are also expected to become a hotly contested issue during the meeting, with Germany, France and Italy pushing for Ariane 5 and new Vega rockets, which they have invested in.

"Some people may ask for a ban on foreign vehicles to launch satellites," Rachel Villain, the director of space and communications and the Paris-based Euroconsult agency, told the BBC.

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