PARIS — The Italian government on Feb. 13 appointed a legal scholar to take the reins of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in the wake of the resignation of ASI’s president following a corruption investigation targeting ASI and other Italian aerospace agencies.

Aldo Sandulli, a law professor at a Naples university, was named ASI extraordinary commissioner by the Italian council of ministers following a recommendation by Education and Research Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza.

ASI said Sandulli would oversee ASI’s affairs until a new agency management team was in place, a period expected to last no longer than three months.

Sandulli’s appointment follows the Feb. 7 resignation of ASI President Enrico Saggese, who offered to leave his post to “better defend my integrity, honor and prestige” in the face of an apparently broad inquiry into alleged misuse of funds at ASI and other aerospace agencies.

In his resignation letter, which was posted on ASI’s website, Saggese proclaims his innocence and says his voluntary departure should not be construed as an admission of guilt in the investigation. One Italian official said some 100 government agents raided ASI’s Rome headquarters and other locales on Feb. 6 to seize documents.

The corruption probe is centered on alleged irregularities in the award of several contracts over which ASI had control. But the Italian official said it is much wider than that and ultimately could include one or more core ASI programs.

ASI is a minority shareholder in e-Geos, a geospatial imaging services provider; and in ELV, which is the prime contractor for Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher in partnership with rocket-hardware builder Avio S.p.A. of Turin.

Jean-Loic Galle, chief executive of French-Italian satellite builder Thales Alenia Space, said Feb. 13 that none of his company’s programs appears to be affected by the corruption probe.

The ASI investigation comes at a delicate time for Italy’s space sector. Italy’s space strategy will be key to the outcome of a scheduled December meeting of European Space Agency ministers on the future of Europe’s launch sector and its participation in the international space station.

The launcher discussions center on the future of the Ariane rocket line and in particular on whether to start immediate development of a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket. The current design of Ariane 6 features four identical solid-propellant stages and one cryogenic upper stage.

The evolution of the Italian-led Vega small-satellite rocket, also mainly powered by solid propellant, is tied to Ariane 6, in which Italy could play a major role with Avio ending up as a provider of solid propellant to Ariane 6 in addition to Vega.

Avio’s owners have been seeking to sell the company for more than a year. Holding up the sale has been the Italian government’s indecision on whether to oblige Avio to retain substantial Italian ownership, in which case the Italian government would need to assist in financing a sale, or to allow its purchase by French contractors.  

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