Eumetsat Secures Funding For Jason-3 Ocean Mission

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PARIS — Europe’s meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat, on Feb. 2 announced it has received sufficient financial commitments from its member governments to permit the final go-ahead for the U.S.-European Jason-3 ocean altimetry mission.

The commitment by 19 of Eumetsat’s 24 member governments to finance a total of 63.6 million euros ($89 million) in Jason-3 costs brings to a close an occasionally painful episode at the Darmstadt, Germany-based organization, which has been trying to win program approval for several years.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has long made clear its intention to provide a U.S. share of about 100 million euros in Jason-3 expenses, which for the U.S. agency will include the satellite’s launch in late 2013 or 2014, plus contributions to payload instruments and operations support. NASA has also agreed to support Jason-3 science teams.

In addition, the French space agency, CNES, has said for years that it would donate, free of charge, a spare Proteus satellite platform — similar to the one used for the U.S.-French Jason-2 satellite launched in June 2008 — for Jason-3.

In an unusual move, the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) agreed to pitch in some 3 million euros for Jason-3 development, and the executive commission of the 27-nation European Union said it would commit to purchasing Jason-3 data.

European Earth scientists had told the commission that providing an uninterrupted flow of ocean altimetry data from the U.S.-French Topex-Poseidon, Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites was a high priority for Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security Earth observation effort.

Notwithstanding this backing, Eumetsat struggled to win the endorsement of its member states, in part because of work-distribution issues among the participating governments. In December, only 13 of the 24 Eumetsat nations had signed up.

Jason-3’s prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, had said it would need a formal contract early this year in order to have the satellite ready for launch by late 2013 — a date program backers wanted to ensure at least a few months of joint operations of Jason-2 and Jason-3.

“The fact that nearly 80 percent of Eumetsat members, including its largest member states, are participating shows the importance they attach to continuing the mission begun so successfully by Jason-2 and that the solidarity among Eumetsat member states continues to prevail,” Eumetsat Director-General Lars Prahm said in a Feb. 2 statement.

The Eumetsat governments backing Jason-3 have so far subscribed to a total of 90 percent of the required sum of 63.6 million euros, according to Eumetsat. The organization’s policy is to move forward on missions with that level of support, with the understanding that the subscribing countries will be asked to increase their stakes on a pro rata basis to cover 100 percent of the program’s costs.

In addition to its donation of the Proteus satellite platform, France is making the biggest cash investment in Jason-3 among Eumetsat members, with a 20 percent share. Britain has signed up for a 14.2 percent share, followed by Italy (12.2 percent), Germany (12 percent) and Spain (7.66 percent).

CNES is expected to sign the Jason-3 construction contract with Thales Alenia Space in the coming weeks.