ESA, Airbus sign long-delayed Galileo contract after court ruling

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JOHANNESBURG The European Space Agency announced May 28 that it had signed a long-delayed 700-million-euro contract ($855 million) with Airbus Defence and Space on behalf of the European Commission for six second-generation Galileo satellites.

The European Commission announced Jan. 20 it had selected Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space to construct 12 second-generation Galileo navigation satellites. The decision shut out incumbent manufacturer OHB who had been responsible for 34 of the 38 first-generation Galileo satellites.

In response, OHB filed a complaint with the General Court of the European Union alleging Airbus illegally acquired trade secrets by recruiting an executive who had played a decisive role in preparing OHB’s offer. The court ordered the European Commission to suspend the awards until it could rule on OHB’s complaint. 

The injunction on the Thales Alenia Space award was lifted in late February when the court ruled that OHB had only submitted arguments in relation to Airbus. Within a day of the ruling on Feb. 26, a 770-million-euro contract for six second-generation Galileo satellites was signed.

Deciding the Airbus matter took longer. After protracted court proceedings, the 700-million-euro Airbus award for the second pair of six satellites was cleared last week to proceed. 

In the ruling, the president of the General Court acknowledged that OHB’s allegations were not unfounded but cited the potential for “major technical and financial consequences” in ruling against OHB.

“In view of those considerations, the President of the General Court concludes that the weighing up of the interests at stake leans towards not granting the interim measures sought,” read the decision.

ESA and Airbus signed the six-satellite Galileo contract May 26 following the General Court ruling.

In response to the resumption of the long-delayed contract signing, Airbus Defence and Space described the outcome as an important moment for the Galileo program.  

“This is a key milestone in European satellite navigation services that European citizens and the billions of users of Galileo services around the world will benefit from and Airbus will enable it”, Airbus spokesman Ralph Heinrich told SpaceNews.

The first of the second-generation Galileo satellites is slated to be launched aboard an Ariane 6 rocket within four years. The next-generation satellites will offer a significant upgrade on their first-generation counterparts with a focus on accuracy and resilience.