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Europe gets a $15.9 billion funding boost for its space exploration plans

(CNN) — The European Space Agency has received a 14.4 billion-euro ($15.9 billion) funding boost from its 22 member states as it seeks to launch new missions and safeguard its role in space exploration and research.

The agency, which concluded a two-day ministerial meeting in Seville, Spain, on Thursday, agreed on a budget of 12.5 billion euros for the next three years or 14.4 billion euros over five years.

The agency’s budget is still much smaller than NASA’s, which was estimated to be $19.4 billion for 2019.

ESA’s director-general, Jan Woerner, said in a live-streamed news conference that the amount countries had pledged was more than the agency had initially proposed.

In particular, more money than expected was committed to expand Europe’s Copernicus Program, a group of satellites that monitor the status of the planet.

“From my point of view, climate change is a strong driver,” Woerner said. “This shows there is awareness for our planet because citizens are asking to do something and you can only do something if you have the right information.”

Lunar exploration

The funding will also be used to ensure European participation in a new wave of lunar exploration.

Europe is expected to contribute to Orion, the NASA spacecraft which will carry the first woman and the next man to the moon in 2024 as part of the Artemis project.

The European service module will provide propulsion, power, thermal control and air and water to the Orion crew module — the first time that NASA will use a European-built system as a critical element to power a US spacecraft.

The first launch — without a crew — is planned for the end of 2020.

The agency also has Mars in its sights, with the funding allowing the agency to pursue a project to send a rover and surface platform to Mars to answer the question of whether life has ever existed on the red planet.

ESA said it will send more European astronauts to the International Space Station before 2024.

And there was also a 10% boost for the agency’s space science budget, including plans to use gravitational waves to study black holes and a mission to intercept and study a comet in our solar system.

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