Europe Intends To Further Reduce Need for Foreign Spacecraft Parts

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  Space News Business

Europe Intends To Further Reduce Need for Foreign Spacecraft Parts

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 30 September 2008
08:26 am ET






But Some Components Will Continue To Be Imported

PARIS
— European governments are taking a fresh look at their dependence on the
United States
and other nations for space hardware with a view to reducing the amount of mission-critical hardware they must purchase outside
Europe
.

Government and industry officials said the idea has picked up support recently with the decision of the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Defense Agency and the commission of the 27-nation European Union to set up a joint task force to determine how to move toward with what officials are calling “strategic non dependence.”

At a Sept. 24-25 conference here on space research and technology priorities in
Europe
, organized by the Eurospace association of space companies, government and industry officials said they are not aiming toward full self sufficiency in
Europe
for space hardware. Instead, they said they hope to target specific technologies for which
Europe
can assure its own supply in the long term.

Where autonomy is not feasible, they said, they will try to diversify their supplier base outside the
United States
– to
Japan
or
South Korea
, for example – to dilute the effects of
U.S.
technology export policies.

“This is something new in
Europe
,” said EvertDudok, chief executive of Astrium Satellites and president of Eurospace. “Up to now, nondependence has not been a major driver of European space policy, unlike all other space powers. But the concept is now taking on political substance and we expect concrete decisions.”

European officials said they have concluded that the
U.S.
technology-export regime known as ITAR, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations, is unlikely to be substantially modified. The law took effect in 1999 and places satellite components in the class of munitions for export purposes.

European officials said that aside from making purchases of
U.S.
satellite components more complicated and time-consuming, ITAR has made it nearly impossible for European contractors to delve into the technical and performance history of the goods they are buying in the
United States
. This leaves them vulnerable in the event a component fails in orbit and a customer demands that the prime contractor explain what happened.

Jose Ignacio Gonzalez-Nunez, chief risk officer at Eutelsat of Paris, said the satellite fleet operator had to go to a
U.S.
firm to get a large, unfurlable S-band antenna for its W2A satellite, to be launched in 2009, because there was no European alternative. The 12-meter-diameter antenna is being built by Harris Corp. of
Melbourne
,
Fla.

Michel Fiat, chief technology officer at ThalesAlenia Space, which is prime contractor for W2A, said taking delivery of the antenna is less of a problem than determining its performance history and other characteristics that he said a prime contractor ought to know.

Fiat said in cases like this, the European prime contractor is obliged to use a
U.S.
intermediary to interrogate Harris or other
U.S.
component suppliers and then to certify that the European contractor’s concerns have been addressed. “It’s not a very satisfactory situation,” Fiat said. “The level of visibility under export rules is limited and when there is an anomaly it is difficult for us to get the problem taken seriously” because of ITAR restrictions on information flow.

Fiat and Robert Laine, chief technology officer for Astrium Satellites, said 50-60 percent of electronics components used in European satellites comes from outside
Europe
, mainly the
United States
.

Laine
said components that previously were not on the ITAR list have since been added, even if the component characteristics have not changed.

Alberto Tobias, head of ESA’s technology program, said the agency will work with the European Defense Agency and the European Commission to produce a list of critical satellite components for which no reliable European supplier exists. The next step will be either to diversify the supplier base to include Asian nations, or to cultivate European suppliers, he said.

Tobias said nondependence has been classed as a “key performance indicator” in ESA purchasing decisions. “But developing non dependence needs Europe-wide action, from aggregating markets for the components in question to permitting a derogation of requirements for purchases,” Tobias said.

Tobias and others said that a manufacturer asked to begin a production line of space-qualified electronics components will demand a minimum order volume, which can be achieved only if all European space-hardware buyers agree to use the designated manufacturer.

Magali
Vaissiere, head of ESA’s telecommunications department, said European contractors were asked several years ago by ESA whether the agency should undertake an effort to develop a European capability for large, deployable satellite antennas.

“We were told by industry that the market size for this product would not be big enough to justify industry co-financing a technology-development program,” Vaissiere said, noting that many ESA technology programs require contractor co-financing, and those that don’t require unanimity among ESA member states before being approved.