Swedish Space Policy (Part I): cuts on the horizon?

The Swedish National Space Board (SNSB), Rymdsytrelsen, is responsible for coordinating Swedish space activities. This includes Swedish contributions to, and activities within, the European Space Agencys (ESA) aegis. Indeed, a large part of the budget for SNSB is in fact concerned with the transfer of funds from the Swedish State (Näringsdepartment mostly) to ESA. In 2011 approximately 2/3 of SNSBs budget was spent on transfers to international agencies (e.g. to ESA and for the International Space Station). Incidently, we know this because SNSB is very transparent: a lot of information is to be found on their website.

Periodically, SNSB releases a new strategy for Swedish space activities, normally after consulation with interested parties including industry and academia. The current strategy dates from 2010. In this strategy SNSB notes the political dimension in space activities, particularly in relation to lanuchers. In 2008 Sweden declined to contribute to the Ariane launcher program within ESA because of it’s unsustainability. Despite concerns over a lack of transparency in that program, leading to uncertainty over the benefits to Swedish industry (Sweden has an active aerospace industry that last year had a ~1 Billion Kr turnover: approx. 112 M Kr), the Swedish government took the decision to contribute to Ariane in 2009. SNSB received 10.6 Mkr for this in 2011 (and presumably similar sums in 2009 & 2010).

In the budget proposal for 2013-2015 SNSB notes that it’s budget, adjusted for inflation, has remained largely stable over the past decade or so. Furthermore, it is pointed out that the level of funding is not sustainable: not least since the government´s additional funding for Ariane has now dried up but the responsibility for the program remains. SNSB has been directed to support Ariane, but has no budgetary room for manoeuvre. SNSB notes that even the extra funding received did not cover the full costs of the extra participation in Ariance:

 Regeringen fattade sedan 2009 ett nytt beslut om att Sverige skulle delta i ESA:s bärraketprogram, men Rymdstyrelsen fick bara extra medel 2009-2011. I dagsläget är därför Sverige med i ett stort och kostsamt ESA-program som inte ryms inom Rymdstyrelsens ordinarie anslag. Rymdstyrelsen vill betona att andra åtaganden som Sverige gjorde vid ministerrådsmötet 2008 i vissa fall sträcker sig så långt som till 2019. Det bör också noteras att Rymdstyrelsen 2009-2011 tillfördes 289 miljoner kronor från regeringen för deltagande i bärraketprogrammet men under samma period hade kostnader för detsamma som omfattade 505 miljoner kronor.

The difference between the extra funding received by SNSB and the cost to SNSB of participation was 116 M Kr between 2009 and 2011. SNSB notes that with an unchanged budget, and a government requirement to participate in Ariane (that SNSB suspects is of little benefit to Swedish industry and over which Sweden has little influence), leaves SNSB facing cuts to other programs, particularly if the SNSB budget remains at recent levels.


The proposed budget for Space activities.
Bärraketer= Launchers (Ariane),
Utveckling av verksamheten = development of activities

From this figure we see that SNSB is asking for an addition (“tilläggsmedel”)to their regular funding to support launcher activities of 205 Mkr and a total budget of 475 Mkr for space activities and space research. i.e. Launcher/Ariane costs are 43% of the science budget. Even with this additional funding it is almost certain SNSB will have to curtail other science programs to fund Launchers as the ESA launcher program is experiencing escalating costs (due in part to the development of both Ariane-5 capabilities and pressure to develop the next gen. launcher).

The situation facing SNSB is therefore one in which promising programs in Space and Earth sciences, are being cut back to pay for a “political ambition” (to quote a senior actor in Swedish Space policy). These are programs in areas where SNSB has identified a strategic value. Whatismore, SNSB is futher limited by a requirement to maintain its’ commitment to Esrange, the facility in northern Sweden used for rocket and balloon launches. SNSB has previously tried to reduce its’ commitment to Esrange but has been overruled by the government. The upshot, promising science and technology prgrams fall foul of political ambition. Either as part of horse trading in Europe or because politicians like big rockets. Not good news for Earth Observation, Space Physics or many other science fields, nor a comfortable situation for SNSB.

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