The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced its biggest-ever budget, as it set out an ambitious programme of future missions including sending the first Europeans to the moon.

The five-year budget is now €14.4 billion, while the previous one agreed by a council of ministers two years ago was around €10.3 billion.

The agency said it was looking to reinforce its relationship with the European Union, which is a separate legal entity.

Space ministers and representatives from member states and partners gathered in Seville, Spain for the ministerial council which takes place every few years. Here, countries negotiate and horse-trade over contracts which can provide a boost to industries back home.

The United Kingdom, which is seeking an exit from the EU, reconfirmed its commitment to ESA, maintaining its place as one of the big four funders alongside Italy, Germany and France.

The UK announced it will invest £374m per year over the next five years, as it seeks a key role in a number of the projects ESA is working on.

These include:

Sending LISA, a gravitational wave detector, to fly alongside the black hole mission Athena and enable fundamental advances in the understanding of the physics of the Universe

• To get European astronauts to the moon for the first time

• European support for a Mars Sample Return mission, in cooperation with NASA

• Development of fully flexible satellite systems to be integrated with 5G networks

• The removal of dangerous space debris

• The Hera mission, in collaboration with NASA, to test asteroid deflection capabilities

“Bringing together our Member States, 22 governments that change regularly, and agreeing on such inspirational projects to share a joint future in space might seem an impossible task on paper,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner.

“But in two days in Seville, we have proved it is possible.

“Together we have put in place a structure that sees inspiration, competitiveness and responsibility underpin our actions for the coming years, with ESA and Europe going beyond our previous achievements with challenging new missions and targets for growth along with the wider industry.”

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