Military Quarterly | European Space Agency, OHB Blamed for Galileo Delays; Financial Penalties Forthcoming

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PARIS — European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani laid equal blame for the delays in Europe’s Galileo satellite positioning, navigation and timing project at the feet of the European Space Agency (ESA) and satellite prime contractor OHB AG and said financial penalties would be imposed.

Tajani also said he has asked his staff to study options favoring the use of Galileo in Europe, “including a regulatory option that would require the use of Galileo, based on the example of eCall. The results of the study should be known in early 2014 and the commission will then make its decision.”

Europe’s eCall sends messages automatically from vehicles involved in an accident anywhere in the 28-nation European Union. It will be mandatory in new automobiles in Europe starting in 2015.

The European Commission owns the Galileo system, ultimately a constellation of 30 satellites in medium Earth orbit that will perform most of the same services provided by the U.S. GPS fleet.

The U.S. government and the European Commission in 2004 signed a bilateral accord to favor interoperability of the two systems. The agreement sets limits on the measures each side may take to foster use of its system to the exclusion of the other.

Tajani, who is commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship and has charge of Galileo, said delays in the construction of the Galileo satellites will mean early services might not be available until 2015. In a speech in Brussels, during the Oct. 15 Galileo 2.0 conference organized by the European Parliament, Tajani acknowledged “it is very likely that we won’t have any launches in 2013.” 

Other government and industry officials say the next two Galileo satellites’ launch dates will not be known until they complete thermal vacuum testing, which began in early October and is scheduled to continue until late November. Assuming a smooth passage through this crucial test phase, they said, the next two satellites could be ready for launch in June — about a year late.

Tajani defended the choice of Bremen, Germany-based OHB as Galileo prime contractor, saying ESA had recommended OHB following a competition against a consortium including Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space.

He said that whatever the cause of the delays, it is not because of the commission. “Let me underline that the commission, while having confidence in the European Space Agency — meaning the system architect and technical manager — has always assumed its political responsibilities. Everything that depended on us has been done.”

Tajani said the commission in the past several months has worked more closely with ESA to lend a hand on Galileo, and that ESA has reinforced its oversight of the OHB work.

“But more needs to be done,” he said. “Today, both OHB and ESA need to take the necessary measures and assume their responsibilities. That is why I have asked [ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques] Dordain to identify why the current problems were not anticipated as well as the solutions to be put in place for the future.”

Tajani said that since he has been industry commissioner he has “never asked for a single additional euro for Galileo. And there will be no reason to do so. It is for this reason that, at the appropriate moment, the penalties foreseen in the contract will be applied.”

It is not clear whether the commission is thinking of imposing financial penalties for late delivery only on OHB or on ESA as well. Officials said even a full penalty payment likely would be insufficient to finance the yearlong delay, especially now that ESA and the commission have asked 10-15 Thales Alenia Space engineers to move to Bremen to give OHB additional Galileo manpower.

Tajani said Dordain has promised to deliver an updated Galileo schedule that should feature three launches in 2014. Each launch, aboard a Europeanized Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in South America, carries two Galileo satellites.

 

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes


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