PARIS — After more than two years of negotiations, European Space Agency (ESA) governments have secured the full funding package to build a data-relay satellite system whose initial customer will be the European Commission’s Earth observation program, ESA’s director of telecommunications said|Jan. 28.
In an interview, Magali Vaissiere said the agency’s Industrial Policy Committee, which clears funds for release, has approved 280 million euros ($380 million) for the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) system.
EDRS will include two laser-optical terminals, one installed as a hosted payload aboard a still-unselected commercial telecommunications satellite to be launched in 2013 or 2014, and one aboard a dedicated data-relay satellite to be ready for launch in 2014 or 2015.
Vaissiere said Germany, which has led the program since it was first proposed in November 2008, retains a 50 percent share of EDRS. Last-minute support from the Netherlands and Norway helped push EDRS over the financial hurdle that had prevented its go-ahead in the past two years.
Vaissiere said Astrium Services, which won the competition to operate the EDRS service as a profit-making business, is expected to invest about 100 million euros to round out the capital expenditure needed to build and launch the two payloads.
In return, Astrium Services will contract with the European Commission to provide EDRS service to relay data from the Sentinel series of Earth observation satellites being built as part of Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES, program.
The European Commission will be Astrium Services’ anchor tenant, but the company will be free to seek other customers as well. Vaissiere said “several million euros” in additional funds are expected to be found by hosting one or more payloads aboard the dedicated EDRS satellite, to be built by OHB Technology of Bremen, Germany.
It remains unclear when the European Commission, which has had trouble financing its existing GMES commitments, will be able to contract with Astrium Services. Vaissiere said that while the contract to build EDRS will be signed by March, the services contract is likely to take months longer to prepare given the budget cycle of the European Commission.