• long-term plans. NASA can often reprogram funds to cover budget changes in the smaller missions, giving it the flexibility for new initiatives and a "smaller, faster, cheaper" approach. The ESA system, although benefitting major missions that require long-term funding stability, is less flexible in short-term planning and less conducive to conducting smaller and medium-size missions. However, it should be noted that ESA was created to undertake satellite programs too expensive to be funded by any single country; this tends to inhibit it from undertaking small satellite programs.
  • Industrial policy. ESA has a policy oriented toward supporting European industry through the juste retour concept, whereas NASA has a much more flexible approach in this area. ESA's industrial policy has been reexamined by member states to allow more flexibility, still maintaining a juste retour.41

Commercial and/or competitive forces. In the area of Earth observation from space, where commercial interests are strongest, NASA's present priority is science first and commercial interests second. At ESA, with the currently proposed Earth Explorer program, which is primarily scientifically oriented, and the Earth Watch program, which is more oriented to applications and service, the situation will be different. This difference is reflected in the specific data policy defined for each of these programs: the data policy for Earth Explorer, which will be defined by ESA, and the policy for data acquired by satellites in the Earth Watch category, which will be defined by ESA partners that contribute to the missions. With regard to individual countries, there is only Système Pour l'Observation de la Terre (SPOT), an operational land remote sensing program, designed and developed largely by France. Although SPOT data may be used for scientific purposes, they are sold commercially. In France, research laboratories are subsidized by the government to acquire these data.


In March 1997, the ESA Council met in Paris to consider changes to the juste retour or industrial policy. The council consists of representatives from ESA's 14 member governments. Previously, ESA ensured that 96 percent or a member's contribution would be returned in industrial contracts to the member nation. The 1997 ministerial decisions will be implemented gradually until 1999.

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