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Swiss space programme reaches for Mars

The universe is the limit for Swiss space ambitions

(Keystone)

Switzerland wants to play a more prominent role in prime space projects, the Swiss Space Office (SSO) will tell their European counterparts this week.

The SSO will bid SFr116-139 million ($88-105 million) for new missions, including an unmanned trip to Mars, at the European Space Agency (ESA) Minister Conference in Berlin on Monday.

Switzerland also wants to be involved in the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) satellite system and the launch of satellites carrying commercial telecoms technology.

SSO director Marc Bertschi, who is part of a Swiss delegation to the conference, told swissinfo that Switzerland will change its space strategy to focus on specific projects rather than spreading its efforts too thinly.

"We will try to focus on priority activities to enable our scientists and our industry to go one step further in the level of responsibility they have in the ESA programmes," he said.

"We have no national space programme, so this is only way for us to ensure we have a level playing field for our industry and scientists. We have no other specific means to support the development of our capabilities."

Financial freedom

Switzerland plans to spend around SFr560 million over the next four years. Previously, the SSO was limited to the amount it could spend on individual projects.

But the federal authorities have recently lifted financial caps to allow the organisation to direct more money where it sees fit.

The Swiss delegation, led by State Secretary for Education and Research Charles Kleiber, plans to plough more cash into the GMES, Mars and commercial satellite long-term schemes to give Switzerland greater influence.

Switzerland is already earmarked to contribute sensors to the Mars mission to detect signs of life on the planet, but would like to get more involved in all three targeted projects.

This will mean reduced Swiss funding in other areas, but realising the goal rides on negotiations in Berlin.

"In some very attractive programmes we will have to negotiate with our partners," said Bertschi.

"Maybe some programmes will get more money than required so our level of participation will be reduced because of oversubscription. We expect this could happen in the mission to Mars."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

Switzerland has an annual space budget of around SFr140 million ($106 million) for the next four years.
Switzerland's major recent achievements in space include providing technology for the Rosetta comet-chasing probe, the production of atomic clocks to help navigate satellites, and involvement with the Venus Express probe launched in November.
The ESA Minister Conference takes place in Berlin on December 5-6.

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