The German government, backed by German and French industry, says designs for a successor, known as Ariane 6, are not yet clear enough to permit an immediate start to a program that could cost roughly €4 billion over 10 years. They are in favor of completing the mid-life evolution (Ariane 5 ME) agreed to in 2008, an upgrade that would increase the Ariane 5's payload carrying power by 20% to more than 11,000 kg (24,250 lb.).
Nonetheless, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain has said Europe cannot lose any more time on Ariane 6, given competition in the global commercial market and the need to end ESA's €120 million in annual price supports for Ariane 5.
France's higher education and research minister, Genevieve Fioraso, has proposed maximizing synergies between Ariane 5 ME and Ariane 6 to preserve past investments. During a late-October visit to industrial-gas giant Air Liquide in Sassenage, France, she said the rocket's development would sustain Europe's expertise in launchers while resulting in a less costly vehicle that takes account of long-term market conditions and prospects for intense competition. “There is no use delaying the decision,” says Fioraso, who will lead the French delegation at the ESA ministerial meeting.
France and Germany must also reach consensus on continued European participation in the ISS beyond 2015, and how to pay for it. ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is the largest cargo carrier currently serving the station, but only five such vehicles are expected to cover ESA's share of common operating costs aboard the orbiting outpost through 2017. Beyond that, NASA has asked Europe to provide a propulsion module based on the ATV for its Orion crew exploration vehicle, a plan Germany supports. But Italy and France would like Europe to find something more technologically challenging to cover ESA's share of roughly €450 million in ISS common operating costs in 2017-20.
Meanwhile, French space agency CNES says Europe is lacking several hundred million euros to fund its own use of the station, an issue that should be resolved before ESA debates a so-called ISS “barter element” with NASA.
Russian space agency Roscosmos is expected to make an appearance at the ministerial meeting to formalize participation in ExoMars, Europe's only ongoing space exploration program. ESA governments have spent several hundred million euros on the program to date, but its costs have grown and a previous bilateral partnership between ESA and NASA collapsed in 2011, leaving Russia to step in as a partner.
Lunar exploration is also on the agenda (see article below), including development of a robotic lander and small terrestrial rover backed by Germany, which in today's economic environment is capable of making or breaking the ministerial summit.
The weight of the issues facing ESA governments now and the financial stresses on them have forced Dordain to effectively divide the meeting into two, though these summits occur usually just every three or four years. To avoid collapse of ESA, he proposes that only some issues be resolved definitively this year, leaving the rest to another ministerial conference scheduled for mid-2014.
Despite the challenging economic environment, Dordain says telecom projects are expected to see a slight increase, to €1.2-1.4 billion, with a portion of the U.K.'s spending increase targeted at development of a new telecom satellite platform dubbed NeoSat.
In addition, ESA wants to invest in an all-electric satellite known as Electra to counter international developments, notably by Boeing, which has already sold two such spacecraft commercially. The agency also wants to upgrade the Vega rocket, invest in a maritime surveillance system and expand its data relay service, all items likely to be delayed until 2014.