Eumetsat Council Approves Budget Hike

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PARIS — Europe’s meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat, on Dec. 2 approved a 16 percent budget increase for 2010 and said it expects to complete financing by January for its share of an ocean-altimetry mission to be launched with the United States.

Meeting at the 24-nation organization’s headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, Eumetsat’s ruling council postponed, until March, a formal decision on the multibillion-dollar Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) satellite system, Eumetsat Operations Director Mikael Rattenborg said.

The council preferred to wait until the European Space Agency (ESA), which is managing the MTG procurement, selects a builder and establishes a price ceiling for the satellites before approving the Eumetsat MTG budget, Rattenborg said in an interview.

Eumetsat has tentatively approved spending about 2.4 billion euros ($3.6 billion) for its majority share of the MTG system costs. ESA governments are expected to pay around 900 million euros for ESA’s role. The MTG program is designed to be ready for launch in 2015 and will follow the four-satellite Meteosat Second Generation system currently in operation. The third second-generation satellite is scheduled for launch into geostationary orbit in 2012.

The need to prepare for the third second-generation Meteosat, and for the launch of Eumetsat’s second polar-orbiting Metop satellite, called Metop-B, is one reason the council approved a budget increase for 2010, to 220 million euros in contributions from Eumetsat member states. Eumetsat’s 2009 budget is 190 million euros.

Eumetsat has a tentative spending budget in 2010 of around 257 million euros, compared with 229.1 million euros in 2009.

The difference between the spending budget and the level of members’ contributions is due to factors including revenue Eumetsat generates from services; funds from contributing states that are not yet full members; costs for European Commission-managed projects that are reimbursable; and advance budget authorization for programs for which money will be spent the following year.

The third second-generation Meteosat satellite is scheduled for launch as a co-passenger on an Ariane 5 rocket. The second Metop polar-orbiting satellite is scheduled for launch in early 2012 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Funding for the Jason-3 ocean-altimetry satellite, to provide continuity in a Franco-American program that began in the early 1990s and now features the Jason-2 spacecraft in orbit since June 2008, has been controversial within Eumetsat. Part of the problem has been the reluctance of Eumetsat governments to fund what is seen as a bilateral effort between France and the United States that does not provide sufficient work for Europe’s industry.

But in recent months, both ESA and the commission of the 27-nation European Union have signaled their backing for Jason-3, with ESA recently agreeing to contribute 3 million euros for development.

Rattenborg said Gretchen Lindsay, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) liaison officer to Eumetsat, reaffirmed to the council NOAA’s support for Jason-3. NOAA’s contribution will include the satellite’s launch and operation.

The total Jason-3 budget, including launch, is estimated at 252 million euros. The satellite’s prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, has set an end-of-January deadline for acceptance of its current contract offer. Rattenborg said he expected Eumetsat would win formal backing for its 63.6 million euros of Jason-3 funding by the deadline, permitting the satellite to be launched in 2013. But during the Dec. 2 council meeting, only 13 of the 19 Eumetsat member states expected to participate in Jason-3 confirmed their financial backing.

The nations that have not committed include several of Eumetsat’s biggest financial contributors. Under Eumetsat rules, 90 percent of a program’s estimated cost must be covered by binding commitments before the program begins.

A Jason-3 launch in 2013 would give Jason users an estimated six months of operations with both Jason-2 and Jason-3 in orbit.

In other business, the Eumetsat Council extended by three years, to the end of 2013, its EumetCast-Americas weather-satellite data distribution service for Central and South America. Eumetsat has budgeted 750,000 euros for three years of this service, which uses commercial telecommunications satellites to distribute Eumetsat meteorological satellite data.

The council also approved Eumetsat’s participation in the French-Indian Saral Ka-band-altimetry Earth observation satellite, to be launched in late 2010. Eumetsat will provide a near-real-time data processing center to distribute Saral data and has budgeted up to 250,000 euros to build the facility and about 150,000 euros to operate it for three years.