PARIS — The European Commission is under pressure the week of Jan. 26 to resolve nagging money issues surrounding its two flagship space programs, the Copernicus environment-monitoring effort and its fleet of Sentinel satellites; and the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network.
For Copernicus, the question is straightforward: Now that the commission and the European Space Agency have agreed on the financing of additional Sentinel spacecraft, will the commission commit the financing for Copernicus to become the anchor customer for ESA’s satellite-based laser data-relay service?
ESA and the commission, which is the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, are late in securing the funds needed for the European Data Relay System (EDRS). Neither has committed sufficient money to permit Airbus Defence and Space to undertake, on its own, a 15-year EDRS commercialization program to lure civil government, military and commercial customers worldwide with the promise of gigabits-per-second downloads of environmental data.
ESA and Airbus have been unable to sign final EDRS contracts because ESA came up 10 million euros ($12 million) short of its promised EDRS services purchase during the December meeting of its governments.
Similarly, the commission has yet to sign, with ESA, a Service Level Agreement that would make the commission the cornerstone customer for EDRS over 15 years.
In a Jan. 22 statement in response to SpaceNews inquiries, ESA said:
“Whilst we are currently discussing with a few EDRS Participating States to resolve the under-subscription of about 10 million euros following the ministerial conference decisions, we are in parallel negotiating, with the EC and with
Airbus, the procurement of the EDRS Service Level Agreement for Copernicus.”
The funding gap for EDRS has been serious enough that ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain on Jan. 16 evoked the possibility that an EDRS-equipped satellite that Airbus has put under firm contract might be scrapped.
The contract, with OHB AG of Bremen, Germany, is for the EDRS-C satellite, to be launched in late 2016 and to operate at 31 degrees east in geostationary orbit. EDRS-C carries a commercial telecommunications payload, unrelated to EDRS, for which Avanti Communications of London raised some $100 million.
This satellite would operate with the Eutelsat 9B spacecraft, owned by Paris-based Eutelsat, to be launched this year into the 9 degrees east orbital slot. The EDRS laser terminal is a hosted payload on Eutelsat 9B, whose main mission is conventional satellite telecommunications.
Airbus hopes that these two satellites, plus a future laser terminal to be mounted as a hosted payload on a commercial telecommunications satellite over the Pacific Ocean region — the satellite has yet to be selected — would provide a global ring of laser-relay services for unmanned aerial platforms as well as for speeding large files of Earth observation data to users.
In a Jan. 26 statement, ESA said that “following intense for during the past weeks … the business prospects of EDRS have been consolidated.”
“Based on this consolidation, ESA fully intends to continue with the deployment of the entire EDRS program … including the launch of the EDRS-C satellite. A meeting is now planned on Jan. 28 between … ESA and Airbus to decide on the way to proceed,” the agency said.
The Galileo navigation system’s issues are more complicated. The commission needs to decide, by the end of this month, whether to use an available Europeanized Soyuz rocket to place two more Galileo satellites into orbit in March, or to wait for the end of the year and the scheduled availability of a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, which can carry four Galileo satellites.
It should be an easy choice — take the Soyuz in March rather than risk the chance that adapting the Galileo satellites to Ariane 5 will not be ready until late this year.
ESA’s space operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, on Jan. 21 said it assumed that the commission would select Soyuz for launch in March, with another Soyuz in midyear and perhaps a third by year’s end. The Arianespace launch service consortium of Evry, France, has confirmed that it will make at least two Soyuz rockets ready for launch this year for Galileo.
The problem is that the last time the commission used the European Soyuz, in August, the vehicle’s upper stage placed the satellites into a useless orbit. And during a December launch of the same rocket, the same upper stage went silent for many minutes before the separation of its satellite payload.
The satellites — four O3b Networks broadband spacecraft — were fine and were in fact dropped off in their intended location. But the anomaly destabilized the commission’s Galileo team.
Since the August launch injection error, ESA officials have been working to salvage what they can from the two satellites. In their new orbit — still far from the intended one — the spacecraft can be made part of the Galileo network if an adjustment is made to some types of user terminals.
Dordain has said ESA will inform the commission on what the ground network upgrade will cost, and that the commission then will decide whether it would prefer to give up on using these two satellites and instead launch two additional spacecraft.
Four test Galileo satellites are in orbit in addition to the first two fully operational spacecraft in the bad orbit. But two of the first four have an onboard anomaly and cannot be considered as suitable for full integration into the eventual Galileo constellation.
This means the commission must soon order new Galileo satellites for a constellation intended to include 30 satellites. Only 22 Full Operational Capability satellites have been ordered.