British officials will next week call on the European Space Agency to slash its Pounds 0 million annual budget by 25 per cent over a five-year period.
At a meeting of space ministers from ESA member countries Britain will stand alone in demanding that savings can be made by ESA through measures such as better procurement strategies and more efficient management structures without causing any damage to programmes.
Britain pays Pounds 40 million a year in subscriptions to ESA through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, but only has Pounds 10 million to spend on domestic space science projects. Cutbacks in government funding for PPARC however, mean that even this Pounds 10 million is under pressure.
PPARC and Department of Trade and Industry officials believe the efficiency savings made by ESA could lead to a far better distribution of Britain's total financial commitments to the agency. The subscriptions could come down eventually to Pounds 30 million and the Pounds 10 million saving could be transferred to PPARC's domestic space science programme, doubling the amount of money the council can spend on development of space instrumentation and sophisticated methods of handling data from satellites. Britain is suggesting that the reductions could be carried out over five years in 5 per cent stages.
ESA has so far resisted Britain's moves although it is understood the agency has agreed in principle that a cut of less than half the 25 per cent British target could be considered.
But Britain is expected to stick to its guns at next week's meeting. Officials hope that the stand will force other member states to shift their position. France, Switzerland and the Netherlands have so far insisted that they want to keep the budget unchanged.