PARIS —The European Space Agency will not be subject to financial penalties following the one-year delay in the launch of Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites because the commission did not sign an industrial contract with the agency for the Galileo work, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said Jan. 17.

In a briefing with journalists, Dordain said under the European Commission’s agreement with ESA, the commission pays for ESA’s staff costs and ESA acts as technical manager for the program. But the industrial contract to build the coming Galileo satellites was not an ESA-EU affair. 

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani in October warned that financial penalties to those building Galileo would cover the cost overruns due to the one-year delay in launching the system. He did not specify the amount, and his remarks appeared to be aimed at ESA as much as the industrial consortium led by OHB AG of Germany and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Britain.

Dordain said the Galileo satellite program schedule now appears solid after the first of the OHB-built satellites cleared thermal-vacuum testing in November. The second satellite is now undergoing the same testing.

While not entirely free of open technical issues, Dordain said the satellites appeared on track for a launch in early June aboard a Europeanized Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in South America. A second pair should be ready for launch in early October, with a third in December, he said.

The European Commission, which owns the Galileo system, has committed that initial Galileo services will be available starting in 2014. Whether this goal can be met given the current Galileo launch schedule is unclear. Also unclear is whether ESA will be able to secure three Soyuz launch dates in 2014, a time of high demand on the vehicle.

Dordain said the Galileo Supervisory Authority, which oversees the program for the commission, has already validated that the four initial operating-capability Galileo spacecraft in orbit perform twice as well as expected in terms of their accuracy.

But the four satellites offer only about one hour per day when all four are visible to the same user. With six satellites, Dordain said, the testing qualification of early services can begin. With eight, qualification is possible but not certain. And with 10 satellites, early services may start.

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