PARIS — Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological organization on Feb. 25 said it has secured the backing of all 26 of its member governments for the six-satellite Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) system, an investment of more than 2.37 billion euros ($3.2 billion) whose approval ends one of the most stressful periods in the organization’s history.
Darmstadt, Germany-based Eumetsat operates its main programs by consensus, meaning the absence of even the smallest contributor can stop a program in its tracks. This was the case for MTG, as first Germany, and then Portugal and Belgium, withheld their support.
German approval finally came in late 2010 after securing a larger German share in the MTG contract, and Portugal delivered its formal endorsement in January. Belgium, which has been without a formal government for months, was the last to give its written consent.
“It was not an easy process, and the overall financial situation in Europe certainly did not help,” Eumetsat Director-General Lars Prahm said in a statement. “But I am very pleased to see that all member states have now approved a vital program which will assure the future of Eumetsat’s geostationary observations over Europe, Africa and the Atlantic Ocean over the next few decades.”
The MTG system is being built by a consortium led by Thales Alenia Space of France and OHB Technology of Germany. Each of the four imaging satellites will be equipped with a 16-channel flexible combined imager and lightning imager. The two sounder satellites will each carry an infrared sounder, and also will be equipped with an ultraviolet sounder to be part of Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) environment-monitoring effort.
The sounder and lightning sensors will be new additions to the Meteosat program, which has been operational through its first two generations since 1977. MTG also is designed to deliver information on approaching thunderstorms more quickly than today’s Meteosats.
The imaging satellites are expected to weigh 2,800 kilograms each, with the sounder-equipped spacecraft weighing about 3,200 kilograms at launch. All six will use the same platform design from Bremen, Germany-based OHB, based on the company’s Small-Geo system currently in development and backed by funding from the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA).
ESA is acting as technical design manager and contracting authority for the satellites, as it has done since Meteosat’s beginning.
ESA governments have agreed to pay about 790 million euros for MTG, money that has already been approved.
Eumetsat currently operates four Meteosat satellites. The newest models, Meteosat 8 and Meteosat 9, provide coverage of Europe and Africa. Meteosat 6 and Meteosat 7 are stationed over the Indian Ocean region.
Eumetsat also operates Metop-A in polar orbit as part of an agreement with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Defense, on sharing responsibilities for meteorological observations from polar orbit.
More recently, Eumetsat has assumed responsibility for the Jason series of ocean-altimetry satellites in low Earth orbit. Jason-2 was launched in 2008, and NOAA and Eumetsat have agreed to finance a Jason-3 satellite for launch in 2013.
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