ESA’s Dordain Agrees To Provide More Stopgap Funding for Galileo

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European Space Agency (ESA) Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain backed off Oct. 14 from his 10-month confrontation with several ESA governments that had refused to approve funding for the Galileo satellite navigation system.

After a meeting of the ESA ruling council Oct. 13-14, Dordain agreed to sign most of the billion-euro ($1.2 billion) contract permitting work to continue on Galileo.

In an Oct. 14 telephone interview, Dordain said he had no choice but to perform an about-face despite the continued refusal of several governments to release their share of Galileo’s financing.

“My role is not to maintain a war between [ESA] member states,” Dordain said in explaining his move. “My role is to make the program succeed. The line of reasoning I have used up to now — which I continue to believe is valid — had obviously run its course with no results. If I continued to hold to that line, I was at risk of killing the program.”

Dordain said that despite the stalemate involving several nations — government and industry officials say Germany, Spain and Britain are among them — he will present the contract, along with the Galileo Industries S A consortium, to ESA governments for approval Oct. 27 and Oct. 28.

Even without the funding of the holdout nations, Dordain said he will sign documents needed to keep the Galileo Industries team working beyond October, and aim to get a full contract signed by the end of the year.

Several ESA governments have refused to sign off on their share of the Galileo budget unless ESA guarantees that Galileo installations, including the system’s control center, be built on their national territory. Dordain has said the choice of locale for Galileo installations is not ESA’s to make. The prerogative lies with the private-sector Galileo system operator.

A single large European consortium has been formed to bid for the business, but no contract has been concluded.

German government officials have been the most outspoken in saying that Germany, with Europe’s largest economy, is scheduled to pay more than anyone else into Galileo, whose funding comes from ESA and from the commission of the 25-nation European Union. In return for their country’s investment, German officials have been insisting that they should be guaranteed Galileo’s showcase ground control center.

Since December, and especially since stop gap funding for Galileo Industries of 150 million euros was exhausted this summer, Dordain has said he would not sign any more stop gap contracts. Earlier this year he indicated he would either sign the full authorization permitting Galileo Industries to build the system’s ground infrastructure and launch its first four satellites, or he would sign nothing.

Dordain said he had hoped the threat that Galileo Industries would shut down, and that the Galileo project would suffer irreparable harm, would change the minds of the reluctant governments as the Oct. 31 deadline for lifeline funding for the project drew near.

He now admits that is not the case. “I made a promise to our member states that I would do everything to assure Galileo’s success, and that I would not waste their money. Obviously my idea was no longer valid with the Oct. 31 deadline coming, and I will now sign the full contract but will leave out certain elements while we wait for a full agreement.”

Specifically, Dordain said that because several governments’ Galileo shares will not be available, ESA cannot commit to financing the launch of the four test satellites, and he also cannot commit to the budget line to cover ESA’s program management costs.

Another funding package to provide financial safety margins also will be withheld.

“We are not doing any de-scoping here,” Dordain said. “Galileo Industries can get back to work.”

On Oct. 21 the consortium bidding to manage the Galileo project as a profitable business is expected to make its official contract offer to the government agency assigned to select the Galileo concession winner. Dordain said he holds out the hope that the concession bidder will make sufficient guarantees about where Galileo centers will be located to permit a full contract on Oct. 28. But even if that’s not the case, he said, Galileo Industries will return to full-time work.