PARIS — Satellite manufacturer OHB AG on May 27 announced it had signed a final contract for the construction of a data-relay satellite that will use laser communications to speed delivery of European Earth observation data to users.

Bremen, Germany-based OHB has been working on the European Data Relay System (EDRS) for about two years under a preliminary contract with Astrium Services, which is managing the EDRS system as a public-private partnership with the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA). The final contract announced May 27 is valued at 157.5 million euros ($205 million).

The German government’s decision to invest more in EDRS than any other ESA nation in 2008 guaranteed that German companies would be the system’s main hardware prime contractors. OHB will be using its small-Geo platform, also developed with ESA backing, for the satellite, called EDRS-C.

EDRS-C will carry a laser communications terminal built by Tesat Spacecom of Backnang, Germany, which is providing similar terminals for several European government Earth observation satellites, to be launched into low Earth orbit.

The laser terminals will permit the Earth observation satellites to send data directly to the EDRS satellites in higher geostationary orbit at speeds of 1.8 gigabits per second, after which they are relayed to ground teams.

EDRS-C will operate at 31 degrees east in geostationary orbit and will carry a commercial telecommunications payload owned by Avanti Communications of London. The EDRS-A payload will be a piggyback system to be launched in 2014 aboard a commercial telecommunications satellite owned by Eutelsat of Paris and operated at 9 degrees east.

Astrium’s contract with ESA leaves Astrium in charge of selling EDRS as a service worldwide to government and potentially to commercial users. To strengthen the system’s appeal, Astrium is looking for ESA assistance in financing a third EDRS payload, which likely would be placed on an Astrium-built commercial telecommunications satellite operating over the Americas or East Asia.

The third payload would extend the system’s coverage and permit EDRS to be marketed as a global service. ESA governments are scheduled to meet in late 2014 and may approve a third EDRS payload then.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews.