After no less than 48 hours of negotiating in Naples, Italy, the 20 European nations that support the European Space Agency (ESA) have finally agreed on a budget for the agency and a set of priorities which, while not delightful, doesn’t disappoint, despite the tight economic situation Europe is in at the moment.

ESA’s activities, much like NASA‘s, are quite diverse – from monitoring meteorology to communications, space exploration and running the International Space Station. However, the objectives for the near future are drawn out quite firmly: space exploration is the priority. While a mission to the Moon hasn’t been approved, governments have agreed on a mission to Mars, in collaboration with Russia: the much-troubled ExoMars mission will take place in 2016, if everything goes according to plan.

“It’s a pity that we’ve lost the partnership with NASA but it’s good that we’ve now got the Russians coming in instead, so we’re optimistic that this is now on track,” British Science Minister David Willetts said.

The big fund raise was offered by the UK, who, for the first time, said it will be contributing to the budget. However, the UK is interested in satellite development and meteorology.

“We are backing sectors where Britain has got great strengths, for example the next generation of telecomms satellites,” he said. “We think that satellite broadband, satellite TV, satellite communications will be very important to the future”, Willets added.

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