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Swiss boost for European space programme

Switzerland has also reiterated its commitment to the International Space Station (Nasa)

Switzerland is stepping up its financial and political commitment to the European Space Agency (ESA) over the next three years.

The government announced on Wednesday that it would raise its contribution to the agency to SFr133 million ($103 million) by 2006.

The announcement comes ahead of an ESA conference due to take place next week in Paris, where Switzerland is expected to reaffirm its commitment to space research.

A key aim of the meeting is to discuss the future of the Ariane rocket programme in which Swiss research and development has been heavily involved for 30 years.

Another aim of the conference is to improve cooperation between the ESA and the European Union.

Space research

Jacques Besson, a senior official at the economics ministry, told swissinfo that Switzerland's presence in Paris showed that the government understood the importance of space research.

"It is also a way of expressing our solidarity with our European partners," he said.

"Furthermore, space research is an area which by definition has a promising future. It helps Swiss industry be in the top ranks in materials research and telecommunications."

The Swiss delegation, which is being led by Charles Kleiber, the government's head of science, is looking to promote the use of Ariane rocket programme and Europe's guaranteed access to space.

Another investment focus - especially in the wake of the Columbia disaster in February this year - is the Automatic Transfer Vehicle (ATV) programme.

The project - in which Swiss industry is involved - would help to transfer freight to the International Space Station.

Massive budget

The Paris-based ESA has an annual budget of SFr3.7 billion ($2.86 billion), which makes it the world's largest intergovernmental organisation in the area of research and development.

The Swiss contribution for this year is SFr122 million, which amounts to three per cent of ESA's total budget.

More importantly, it enables most of its research institutions to participate in ESA programmes.

Switzerland gets around two-thirds of its investment back through commissions from the ESA to develop projects in aerospace research.

swissinfo, Tania Peitzker

European Space Research

A key goal of upcoming talks is to reinforce relations between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Union.
Switzerland has been involved in the Ariane rocket programme for 30 years.
Approximately two-thirds of its budgetary contribution is returned in the form of ESA contracts for Swiss industry.

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