Europe Positioned To Order Additional Galileo Satellites Soon

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PARIS — European governments expect to be able to finance additional Galileo navigation and timing satellites in short order as they seek to spend the full 3.4 billion euros ($4.8 billion) they have been given for the overbudget program through 2013, European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani said May 23.

The exact number of additional satellites will depend on final negotiations for two Galileo ground-infrastructure contracts, expected to be signed in mid-June, Tajani said in a press briefing at the commission’s Brussels headquarters. Only then will the commission know how much uncommitted money it has left in the current Galileo budget.

Tajani sought to portray the news as evidence that Galileo may end up costing less than foreseen following commission pressure on Galileo contractors to find savings. However, the program is more than 50 percent over budget and is by no means assured of securing the necessary funds to bring it to completion.

Galileo is intended as a constellation of 30 satellites in medium Earth orbit to provide precise positioning, navigation and timing services worldwide — a European version of the United States’ GPS constellation, but funded by civil authorities instead of by the military, as is the case with GPS.

The commission had budgeted Galileo at 3.4 billion euros between 2007 and 2013, a figure that was intended to cover the construction and launch of 30 satellites, plus an elaborate ground network. Earlier this year, the commission estimated that it would require another 1.9 billion euros to complete the work. The current budget, the commission said, would cover construction of only 18 Galileo satellites.

The first two of these 18 satellites are scheduled for launch in late October on the inaugural flight of the Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. In the press briefing, Tajani went so far as to announce the exact timing of the launch — 7 a.m. on Oct. 20, French Guiana time.

European Commission budgets are multiyear authorizations that in the past have been renewed every seven years. It is difficult for programs such as Galileo to fund major cost overruns without waiting for additional funding from the next seven-year cycle.

Because of that, the commission and the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) — which the commission has hired to oversee Galileo — must wait until the start of the next budget cycle, in 2014, before they have the money to pay the remaining system deployment costs.

European governments have only just begun their discussions of the commission’s next budget cycle and have made no commitments about whether Galileo would be supported. Along with the 1.9 billion euros in additional development charges, the program will cost an estimated 800 million euros a year to maintain and operate, a figure that includes the costs of a GPS-overlay service that is already in place.

Tajani said the commission and ESA have been meeting with Galileo contractors twice a month to force price reductions and accelerate Galileo’s schedule, an effort he said is bearing fruit. “We are speeding things up, and we are cutting costs as compared to the estimates,” he said.

Appearing with Tajani at the press briefing, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said the second Galileo launch, carrying the final two system validation satellites, is scheduled about six months after the first, also onboard a European Soyuz vehicle. All four of the first satellites are being built by a team including Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space.

The 14 Galileo spacecraft under construction by a team led by OHB Technology are scheduled to be placed into orbit between late 2012 and 2014, at which time the interim Galileo system should be declared operational. A firm schedule for the launch of these satellites will await a critical design review, scheduled for July, Dordain said.

If the European Commission is granted further Galileo deployment funding in the budget cycle starting in 2014, the full 30-satellite constellation could be in orbit by 2018, Dordain said. Industry officials have said this date is optimistic, and that a more likely date is 2019 or 2020.

Government and industry officials have said the program would be penalized if there is a long gap between the completion of the 18 satellites now under construction and the contract for the 12 remaining satellites for the constellation. Engineering teams would disband, or would be paid for doing very little as they wait for the new order, these officials have said.

Being able to order additional satellites, or long-lead components, without waiting for 2014 would help keep total costs down while also reducing development time.

 

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