European Space Agency (ESA) members agreed Thursday a record 14.4 billion euros budget, promising to maintain Europe's place at the top table as the United States and China press ahead and industry disruptors such as Elon Musk's Space X present new challenges.
The budget is split, with 12.5 billion euros ($14.1 billion) committed for three years and the full 14.4 billion euros over five, representing an increase of some four billion euros over the previous spending plan.
"Its a surprise, even more than I proposed... this is good," ESA head Jan Woerner told a press conference after ministers from the 22 member states met in Seville for two days.
Woerner said the funding pledges meant the ESA could run a full series of programmes plus additional scientific work, citing moves to increase earth observation as part of efforts, among other things, to monitor climate change.
"It is a giant step forward for Europe," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French space agency.
Germany made the largest contribution to the budget, at some 3.3 billion euros, followed by France on 2.7 billion euros, Italy 2.3 billion euros and Britain with 1.7 billion euros.
The European Union has separately agreed to provide 16 billion euros. Going into the meeting, ESA officials had said the agency was hoping to get increased funding to ensure Europe does not lag behind in a fast changing environment.
Europe has established itself as a major space player, with its very heavy Ariane 6 rocket launcher the latest off the production line and the Galileo GPS system operational.
Critics say however that it has been slow to adapt to some key innovations -- notably reusable rockets pioneered by the likes of Musk.
This "New Space" evolution has seen Musk develop reusable launchers for dramatically smaller yet more powerful satellites, many designed to create and run the "connected world" of driverless cars and countless other aspects of everyday life on earth.
Some experts fear that Europe is simply not competitive enough to get into these new markets but officials stressed Thursday that the ESA was now well placed to meet the challenges ahead.
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