Eumetsat Moves To Strengthen International Cooperative Ties

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  Space News Business

Eumetsat Moves To Strengthen International Cooperative Ties

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 11 July 2008
04:34 pm ET






‘s Eumetsat weather satellite organization has strengthened its cooperation with the Chinese and Russian meteorological agencies and reinforced its ties with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the latest effort at coordination among the world’s environment data-providing services.

In the same vein, Eumetsat agreed to make all of its satellite products, including its instantaneous data, available free of charge to Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program for three years starting this year. GMES, which is still in development, is being run by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission, with Eumetsat expected to play a role that still is being defined.

Meeting July 2 at the 21-nation organization’s , , headquarters, Eumetsat’s ruling council also gave tentative endorsement to a Jason-3 ocean-monitoring satellite to be built as a collaborative U.S.-European effort. The council said an all-European alternative that had been urged by several European governments should take a back seat to await approval in 2011.

The council gave preliminary approval to providing 46 million euros ($72.7 million) for Jason-3, Eumetsat Legal Affairs Director Silvia Castaner said during a press briefing after the meeting. A final decision will be made in December, by which time Jason-3’s other prospective financial contributors – NOAA and the European Commission – are expected to have finalized terms of their own participation.

The French space agency, CNES, is donating an already-built satellite platform and other expertise for Jason-3. Jason-3’s total mission costs are estimated at 238 million euros.

Jason-3 has become a sensitive issue among some European governments despite the fact that it would continue a mission that has been an unquestioned success among both its sponsors and a widening group of civil and military users of ocean-altimetry data. In , the problem is that the prospective European sponsors, including the European Commission, Eumetsat and ESA, have been reluctant to fund a mission whose history and current status is essentially one of U.S.- French collaboration.

The and French space agencies began their ocean-altimetry collaboration in the early 1990s with the 1992 launch of the Topex-Poseidon satellite, followed by Jason- 2001 and then Jason-2, which was placed into orbit aboard a U.S. Delta 2 rocket June 20.

The Jason program is viewed as a rare success story in moving space- based research into the area of operational services.

It is not quite at the point where users are willing to pay for follow-on satellites on their own. But the presence of NOAA and Eumetsat in Jason-2, and now likely Jason-3, is considered an encouraging sign, especially as GMES is designed to start out with funding from the ESA and the European Commission but ultimately be taken over by different user agencies.

The success of the Jason and GMES programs will be measured by their ability to assure users of an uninterrupted supply of data over a long period, European government officials say. If approved by early 2009, Jason-3 could be ready for launch in 2012. Jason-2 is expected to operate at least until 2013.

Eumetsat’s July 2 decision includes an agreement that a Jason-4 satellite will be based on a German-built satellite platform employed for use on ESA’sCryosat polar-ice-monitoring satellite, with a likely launch aboard ‘s Italian-led Vega rocket, now in development.

Multiple international efforts are under way to stitch together the world’s major environment-monitoring satellite agencies into a network to facilitate data dissemination and use. The Geneva-based Group on Earth observations with some 70 nations as members, is spearheading a decade- long effort.

During the July 2 council, Eumetsat Director-General Lars Prahm and NOAA Assistant Administrator Mary Kicza extended the two agencies’ existing cooperation by agreeing that NOAA’s Space Environment Monitor instrument, which flies on NOAA satellites and on Eumetsat’sMetop-A polar- orbiting spacecraft, will be placed on a future Metop-C satellite as well.

With the China Meteorological Administration, meanwhile, Eumetsat agreed to swap data using their respective satellite-based data-transmission systems, which use capacity on commercial telecommunications satellites.

Like Eumetsat and NOAA, has a fleet of polar- and geostationary- orbiting meteorological satellites, called FengYun. Its data-transmission service, called FengYunCast, uses capacity on an AsiaSat telecommunications satellite to send data to users. FengYunCast also incorporates data from NOAA satellites.

Eumetsat cooperation with ‘s Roshydromet organization has been less deep in recent years as has not replaced a key geostationary-orbiting satellite over the Indian Ocean filled with one of its own satellites.

But with ‘s oil-fueled economic recovery, Roshydromet has assured Eumetsat that it will be returning to fully active status among the world’s principal providers of weather-satellite data.

Russia now expects to launch three geostationary-orbiting Electro satellites – also known as Geostationary Orbiting Meteorological Satellite – between 2009 and 2015, along with six polar-orbiting Meteor satellites, for meteorology and oceanography . The next Meteor satellite, Meteor-M, is scheduled for launch late this year.

Russia also is discussing a possible GMES role with the European Commission.

Under their latest agreement, and Eumetsat will have access to each other’s instantaneous satellite data, with a condition that it not be resold.