MUNICH — Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation project has sufficient funds to finance the launch of all 18 satellites now under construction and to maintain sufficient safety margin to cover unanticipated problems, a senior Galileo program manager said March 2.

Javier Benedicto, head of the Galileo project office at the European Space Agency (ESA), said the launch of the last four of these satellites has not been contracted but that money has been set aside, and contract prices negotiated with Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium.

The first two of four Galileo system-validation satellites are scheduled for launch aboard the inaugural flight of Russia’s Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in August or September. The other two are set for a Soyuz launch in mid-2012.

The spacecraft were built by a consortium led by Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space. Fourteen more Galileo spacecraft, under construction by OHB Technology of Germany, are scheduled for launch between late 2012 and 2014-2015.

Benedicto said in an interview that the Galileo program, which has no money to build beyond these 18 satellites to reach the intended 30-satellite constellation, has sufficient funds to pay for the launch of the four satellites — likely aboard Soyuz vehicles as well — and maintain a cash reserve for emergencies. “We currently have a margin of 200 million euros ($272 million), which is plenty,” Benedicto said.

The European Commission, which is the owner of the Galileo project, is unlikely to be able to find the money needed to build the remaining satellites before the commission’s new seven-year budget cycle begins in 2014, said Michel Bosco, deputy head of the satellite navigation unit at the commission.

“This is really not foreseen by the commission’s procedures and would be difficult,” Bosco said March 2. “What is most important now, to assure that future funding is available, is for European industry to demonstrate its abilities with the satellites under construction.”

Sergio Greco, senior vice president for navigation at Thales Alenia Space, said March 2 that the Astrium-Thales Alenia Space consortium would be penalized if no further Galileo satellites were ordered before 2014-2015 because their Galileo team would be disbanded after the launch of their satellites in 2012.

Fritz Merkle, a member of the executive board of OHB Technology, said Bremen, Germany-based OHB would have no trouble with a 2015 award for more satellites given the production schedule of the Galileo satellites now being built by the company.

Bosco responded that the commission has expressly stated its preference for maintaining two Galileo satellite manufacturers. “Obviously we’re not going to choose a bidder whose price is a multiple of the competitor’s,” Bosco said. “But we have stated that we would like to keep dual sourcing,” a policy that might offset the disadvantage of the Astrium-Thales Alenia Space consortium in 2015.



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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.