Astrium Satellites, which was bested by OHB Technology in the competition to build 14 Galileo navigation satellites for the European Commission, is still shaking its head about the decision.

The company’s chief executive, Evert Dudok, said Sept. 8 he could not understand how it is that a program designed to be a showcase of European technology now finds itself using U.S.-provided propulsion.

“The fact that the propulsion for Galileo is now coming from the U.S. — let me just call it a surprise,” Dudok said, adding that the same European Commission overseers that forbade Canada from supplying Galileo search-and-rescue terminals — the work will now be done in Norway — did not restrict the satellite thrusters to European suppliers.

“They did not put that on the list of equipment that they want to be purchased in Europe,” Dudok said.

OHB has selected American Pacific Corp.’s AMPAC-ISP of Niagara Falls, N.Y., to provide the Galileo propulsion system, with Aerojet of the United States as a backup provider. OHB officials said AMPAC and Aerojet have the best track record in building these types of engines.

AMPAC-ISP also has production and test facilities at several European locations.

One industry official involved in the Astrium bid said the propulsion selection is one of several examples of how Astrium and its partners, including Thales Alenia Space, misread the change in focus in European government procurement as the European Commission took over Galileo from the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA).

“I’ll admit it, they outplayed us on this,” this official said of the OHB bid. “We were used to working ESA rules that require us to be good Europeans and select partners within Europe. To OHB’s credit, they read the fine print and saw that it did not prohibit U.S. engine builders, so they contracted with a U.S. manufacturer that helped them keep their bid price low. We learned our lesson, and we won’t make that mistake again.”


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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.