CANNES, France — Europe’s meteorological satellite agency, the 30-nation Eumetsat, has received initial approval for its next-generation polar-orbiting satellite system, with a formal decision expected at the end of the year, Eumetsat Director General Alain Ratier said.

In a July 7 interview here, Ratier said that while the council meeting the week of July 4 did not make a binding commitment to the Metop Second Generation (Metop-SG) network, initial indications are that the governments are favorable to it, especially now that Eumetsat has trimmed the projected cost.

The council’s most immediate business dealt with the agency’s core mandatory program to operate the Meteosat weather satellites in geostationary orbit. More recently its program has been expanded to include satellites operating in polar low Earth orbit, as part of a cooperative arrangement with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates a complementary set of polar spacecraft. Both of these systems require decade-or-longer commitments of funding for multiple satellites.

The council approved contracts for the ground infrastructure for the Meteosat Third Generation satellites, a series of sounding and imaging satellites being built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, and OHB AG of Germany. The satellites are slated to launch starting in 2018

The council approved contracts valued at 18.9 million euros ($25.7 million), including five years of operations, for the Mission Data Acquisition Facility; and 11.7 million euros in contracts for the telemetry, tracking and command system to monitor the satellites.

Next up for Eumetsat is Metop-SG, which includes six spacecraft to be launched starting in 2021. The entire network is designed to operate for 21 years.

With many of its member governments in poor financial shape, Eumetsat’s council ordered the agency to reduce Metop-SG’s costs to Eumetsat by 5 percent.

In the interview, Ratier said Eumetsat did not quite reach that goal but did secure 4.7 percent cost reductions in the satellites that are fully financed by Eumetsat, plus savings in the planned ground infrastructure.

The result: Metop-SG is now expected to cost 3.323 billion euros to Eumetsat, a figure that includes the construction of the four satellites under full Eumetsat responsibility — the first two are being built by ESA and will be handed over to Eumetsat — plus the launch of all six Metop-SG satellites and their operations for 21 years.

Like other meteorologists in Europe and the United States, Ratier has been surprised by the occasional lack of political support for weather satellite systems despite their role in saving billions of euros through both short- and longer-term forecasts.

Eumetsat commissioned a study to demonstrate where these cost savings are and presented it to his member governments. He said that has helped them grant early, if nonbinding, approval to Metop-SG. 

“Our demonstration of the economic value of the program was decisive in persuading certain member states of the necessity of the program,” Ratier said. “We communicated these savings to the political level of our member governments. That, plus our ability to react to their request for economies without sacrificing performance, has been of great help.”

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