As Demand Grows, EU Imagery Center Feels Budget Squeeze

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  Space News Business

As Demand Grows, EU Imagery Center Feels Budget Squeeze

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 14 May 2007
04:26 pm ET


PARIS — The European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC) continues to struggle with budget restrictions that limit its purchase of imagery even as individual European governments invest heavily in their own radar and optical systems, center officials said in a report to the European Commission.

Located in Torrejon, Spain, outside Madrid, the EUSC specializes in analyzing satellite and airborne imagery of regions of concern to European military, civil-protection or humanitarian response organizations. The analysis, with supporting imagery and other documentation, is then delivered to the appropriate government customer.

The EUSC’s biggest client is the European Council’s Directorate for the Defense Aspects of External Relations, but it also does work for individual European governments.

It receives some satellite imagery free, but most of its high-resolution satellite data is purchased on the commercial market from U.S., European, Israeli, Indian or East Asian companies.

In its 2006 annual report, the EUSC says that the type of assignments it is now receiving oblige it to place the accent on high-resolution satellite imagery, the most costly in the market.

But while its satellite-imagery expenses have been increasing, its overall budget has not. The center currently receives about 11 million euros ($15 million) in annual funds to pay its staff of 73 and its operating costs.

It occasionally performs work, on contract, to outside organizations including the European Space Agency (ESA), but these revenues remain modest as a percent of the total budget.

European government officials say it remains unclear whether the EUSC will take center stage in the coming Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES, program whose initial financing has been approved by ESA and the European Commission.

GMES includes a group of medium-resolution optical and radar satellites, but it also will lean on existing and coming systems financed and operated by individual governments — high-resolution optical in France, radar in Germany and Italy, and medium-resolution optical in Spain.

GMES is intended to provide data for a number of varied uses including humanitarian assistance, border control, environmental monitoring and missions that are often associated with military deployments — peacekeeping, treaty-compliance verification and the like. Judging from its 2006 report, the EUSC’s recent activities occupy the same ground, but with the accent on crisis assessment. In 2006, its activities included the following:

�   In concert with the French and German space agencies, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center and a dozen other agencies, the EUSC participated in an exercise simulating a nuclear-power-plant accident in Switzerland. The exercise was conducted as part of a program called Global Monitoring for Security and Stability.

Under the same program, the EUSC and partners conducted a study of Iraqi oil pipeline vulnerability and the consequences in Iraq and in Europe if a major pipeline was destroyed.

The EUSC also has provided reports based on satellite optical imagery to European government authorities as part of a program called Frontex, which monitors the traffic in illegal immigrants who are brought from western Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands by ship.

�   As part of the European Union’s troop deployments and Europe’s concerns with the territories on its border, the EUSC has provided satellite-aided assessments of transport and infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the western Balkans, the southern Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa.

The EUSC also conducted assessments “primarily dealing with counter-proliferation and [including] 25 locations of interest” that are the subject of recurring interest to European Union authorities, the EUSC says in its annual report. The locations were not disclosed.

�   In 2006, the EUSC began training image analysts in identifying nuclear-power installations and in recognizing through satellite imagery the different phases in the nuclear fuel cycle. Training experts in interpreting optical and radar satellite data is viewed as key to Europe’s ability to extract maximum value from its governments’ multibillion-euro investment in satellite hardware.