Eumetsat Can Proceed on Polar System Without Full Support

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DARMSTADT, Germany — Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization continues to struggle with Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis to win support for a multibillion-dollar polar-orbiting satellite system but has found a way forward even without unanimous support, Eumetsat Director-General Alain Ratier said July 6.

Briefing reporters here during the launch of Eumetsat’s third second-generation Meteosat satellite, which will operate in geostationary orbit, Ratier said the 26-nation organization has more than 90 percent of the funding needed to start a preparatory program for the second-generation European Polar System, or EPS-SG.

But because EPS-SG is a mandatory program at Eumetsat, it requires approval by all Eumetsat members. The few nations that have withheld support for the modest preparatory program — Eumetsat is asking for about 41 million euros ($53 million) — have said they ultimately will join it, but cannot do so right now.

Ratier declined to name the nations that have been unable to confirm their share of the program, but other officials have said Spain, Portugal and Greece are among them.

Eumetsat’s ruling council met here July 5-6 intending to put to rest the remaining issues of EPS-SG, whose satellite launches are scheduled to start in 2019.

Ratier said it came close to achieving that goal. The council agreed to fund development of a 10th EPS-SG instrument, the Ice Cloud Imager, which had not secured approval earlier this year. When combined with the six EPS-SG instruments to be financed by the 19-nation European Space Agency (ESA), Eumetsat’s decision completes the payload lineup for EPS-SG.

The next step is for ESA, whose governments are scheduled to meet in Italy in late November to determine multiyear program and budget priorities, and EPS-SG is on the list of programs to be considered.

ESA is scheduled to pay about 20 percent of EPS-SG, which is expected to cost nearly 2.9 billion euros over 15 years. ESA is facing a slightly higher-than-expected EPS-SG bill following the announcement by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that it could not finance development of EPS-SG instruments including a microwave sounder.

ESA and Eumetsat have agreed that the system cannot do without the sounding instrument.

An operational EPS-SG includes two satellites with complementary instruments. To save money, Eumetsat has asked its governments to fund two sets of spacecraft, with a third set of two satellites as an option that would fund the program for 20 years.

Eumetsat officials said that while there is a legal means by which they could start EPS-SG without 100 percent support, the agency does not want to do so until at least Spain has joined the effort.

“Spain is a major Eumetsat member; starting the program without it would not be a good idea,” one European government official said. “Once Spain is on board, we can begin even if that does not take us to 100 percent.”

Eumetsat on July 6 said it expects to begin the EPS-SG preparatory program in August, by which time it expects to have 95 percent of the budget committed. That would suggest Spain will have signed on by then.

EPS-SG will succeed the current Metop satellites that Eumetsat built as part of a cooperative effort with the U.S. government to provide full global coverage from polar low Earth orbit.

Metop is a three-satellite program. Metop A was launched in 2006. Metop B’s launch was delayed by more than three months as Russia and Kazakhstan worked out differences over rocket debris landing zones. It is now scheduled for launch Sept. 10 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The three-month delay will cost Eumetsat an undetermined sum that Ratier said will be known only following negotiations with industry over who pays what charges resulting from the launch delay, he said.

Ratier said the council agreed to postpone until its next meeting in the autumn a decision on a continuation of Eumetsat’s Indian Ocean Data Coverage mission.

Eumetsat has donated a functioning Meteosat satellite to be stationed over the Indian Ocean region to provide tsunami warning and other services. The Meteosat 7 satellite now performing this service still has three or four years of fuel remaining before it will be placed into a graveyard orbit, Eumetsat officials said.

 

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