European Governments Flock To Participate in GMES

by

European governments rushed to secure places for themselves in the future Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Earth observation program by oversubscribing for an initial satellite to be launched around 2010.

They also backed, but to a lesser degree, a long-term effort to continue producing Earth observation satellites devoted to research, including a replacement for the polar-ice surveyor, Cryosat, which was destroyed in October during a launch failure.

ESA Earth Observation Director Volker Liebig had said before the Dec. 5-6 meeting of ESA government ministers that securing data continuity for Europe’s ERS-2 and Envisat radar satellites, both unlikely to last past 2011, was a priority.

ESA proposed spending 200 million euros ($234 million) on a first phase of GMES between 2006 and 2008 , with most of the investment going toward a single satellite to replace ERS-2 and Envisat .

The support for GMES was so strong that ESA reported receiving 253 million euros in total commitments, led by Germany and Italy, followed by France and Spain.

The agency also received less-formal indications of support totaling 430 million euros for GMES’s second phase, according to ESA.

GMES support had been a concern before the meeting because it is not ESA, but the European Commission, that is supposed to lead the program. The commission had earmarked substantial GMES funding in its budget for 2007-2013, but this budget has been blocked as European Union governments argue over agricultural subsidies, new-member benefits and other issues having nothing to do with research or space technology.

European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen, who manages most European Commission space activities, attended the Berlin conference and assured ESA governments that GMES will be a high priority at the commission no matter how the budget struggle is settled. But Verheugen could not commit to funding levels.

“We are unable to make specific commitments. That’s clear,” Luc Tytgat, head of the commission’s space policy office, said in a Dec. 5 interview. “We don’t know what kinds of budget reductions will be needed. But we are here to reaffirm our commitment to GMES so that ESA can start work even without a clear budget signal from us.”

The European Commission’s role in GMES is to stitch together from its different activities — agriculture, environment, border control, coastal-zone management and others — a user community willing to pay for satellite-collected data.

Tytgat said one example is the commission’s annual demand for satellite-based Earth imagery. He noted that a commission-led call for bids for up to 36 million euros worth of imagery per year is expected in the coming months.

ESA’s GMES budget also will be used to secure data from satellites owned and operated by others , including current and future French, Italian and German spacecraft.

“We got fantastic support for GMES in spite of the delay in the [European Commission] calendar,” ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said Dec. 6.

ESA’s Earth Observation Envelope Program, a multi year financing vehicle whose specific satellite investments are selected after financing is available, was extended to 2013. ESA received commitments totaling nearly 1.3 billion euros to be spent between 2008 and 2013. Included in that total are funds to build a replacement for the 70 million-euro Cryosat.

Other missions already approved under this program include EarthCARE, to be built with the Japanese government pending final confirmation that Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology will provide a cloud-profiling radar instrument. A Japanese government official said Japan will decide the issue in 2007.