After nearly a year’s wait, Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization has begun final preparations for the launch of its MSG-2 weather satellite, whose arrival in orbit will enable the movement of two other Eumetsat satellites to guarantee continued coverage of the Indian Ocean region.

Darmstadt, Germany-based Eumetsat expects its MSG-2 satellite to be launched along with India’s Insat 4A satellite Dec. 20 aboard an Ariane 5 GS rocket . The schedule depends in part on a successful Nov. 10 launch, by a newer-generation Ariane 5 ECA vehicle, of DirecTV Group’s Spaceway 2 Ka-band television satellite and Indonesia’s Telkom-2 telecommunications spacecraft. If that launch is delayed, Eumetsat’s will be, too.

Built by Alcatel Alenia Space, MSG-2 has faced multiple launch delays relating mainly to the Ariane 5 GS vehicle’s ability to assure a smooth ride for the satellite’s sensitive instruments. The previous satellite in the series , MSG-1, was launched in August 2002 but carried a heavy shock-attenuation system that could not be used on the Ariane 5 GS.

To launch MSG-2, the Ariane 5 GS vehicle’s upper stage will be reinforced to reduce the amount of shock the satellite will face as the rocket climbs through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Eumetsat officials had expressed mounting frustration as various launch dates starting in early 2005 came and went. The Arianespace commercial launch consortium of Evry, France, has been struggling to match payloads for its Ariane 5 GS rocket variant as it awaits final qualification of the Ariane 5 ECA. That qualification should come with the Nov. 10 flight, assuming it is successful.

In a series of presentations made Nov. 1-4 in Tokyo to the 33rd meeting of the international Coordination Group for Meteorological Satellites, Eumetsat officials said the launch of MSG-2 will free up the in-orbit Meteosat-7 satellite. Once MSG-2 is safely in orbit, Meteosat-7 will be moved to the 63 degrees east longitude orbital slot, over the Indian Ocean, where Eumetsat has been providing gap filler service since 1998.

The Meteosat-5 satellite now over the Indian Ocean was launched in 1991 and is nearing the end of its scheduled in-orbit service life. It will be moved into a graveyard orbit by mid-2006, according to Eumetsat.

Once successfully in orbit and operating, MSG-2 will be renamed Meteosat-9 and will be stationed at zero degrees longitude, Eumetsat’s core position. The twin MSG-1 satellite — since named Meteosat-8 — will be stationed at 3.4 degrees west longitude for duty as an in-orbit spare.

Two more MSG satellites are under construction at Alcatel Alenia, the French-Italian satellite maker. Eumetsat has budgeted about 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) for the four-satellite program, with the European Space Agency investing an additional 313 million euros in the MSG satellite design and development of the first model.

In addition to its geostationary-orbiting Meteosat fleet, Eumetsat is developing polar-orbiting satellites , to be operated as part a joint system with the United States. The first of the three Eumetsat Metop satellites is scheduled for launch in June aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket equipped with a specially designed payload fairing.

For the Metop program, it has not been the launch vehicle or the satellite development but rather the ground segment that has been the source of most concern.

Different ground-segment elements have faced delays and cost overruns.

Eumetsat spokesman Livia Briese said Nov. 3 that a key Metop ground system, called the Core Ground System, was delivered to Eumetsat in late October. “Acceptance review is ongoing,” Briese said.

But development of the Metop space segment has not been without problems. The Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit-A1 instrument, provided for the first Metop satellite by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, failed during ground tests and was returned to the United States for repair. It is expected to be returned by the end of the year for integration into the satellite, Briese said.

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