Europe’s GMES Mission Fails To Gain Broad Political Support

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  Space News Business

Europe’s GMES Mission Fails To Gain Broad Political Support

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 19 June 2006
01:39 pm ET


Europe’s satellite-based Earth observation program, GMES, has failed to win broad political support and will probably have to eliminate planned missions, European government officials say.

While the 17-nation European Space Agency (ESA) has been able to secure sufficient backing from its governments, the European Commission now acknowledges that its share of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security effort has become mired in debates over military use of satellite data and which nations are to get GMES-related contracts.

Paul Weissenberg, director of the Enterprise and Industry directorate, which coordinates European Commission space policy, said GMES has fallen short of its ambitions at the commission. Addressing the 8th European Interparliamentary Space Conference here June 13, Weissenberg said GMES’s security element, which has purposely been left vague, has given some commission officials an excuse to withhold support.

Europe’s defense and foreign policy is led not by the commission, but by Javier Solana, European Union high representative for common foreign and security policy. To the extent that high-resolution optical and radar satellites inside GMES would be dual-use, some have argued that the commission should not be involved.

Weissenberg also said individual European governments have focused too much on their national interests in evaluating GMES. “Forget about your national peanuts,” he said. “GMES is a European project for European citizens.”

ESA and the commission have estimated that to replace Earth observation satellites currently in orbit and begin developing downstream services in marine surveillance, land management and disaster control, they will need five satellites to be launched starting in 2010-2011.

The budget for these optical and radar satellites, including the needed ground installations, is an estimated 2.3 billion euros ($2.9 billion). ESA tentatively has agreed to finance half of this amount on the assumption that the commission would pay the other half.

The commission’s GMES budget is part of the 7th Framework Program for Research and Technology for 2007-2013. The commission recently has said that space projects would total 1.43 billion euros over this period, and that GMES would account for 85 percent of the total space spending, or 1.2 billion euros.

But the commission also has said its GMES spending should be mainly on services, not satellites.

Volker Liebig, ESA director for Earth observation, said here June 12 that indications are the commission will have only around 650 million euros to co-finance GMES satellites. If that figure is confirmed later this year, ESA will need to rethink its GMES strategy, Liebig said.

“Prospective users will not invest in GMES if they are not certain the services will be available,” Liebig said. He added that it would be less expensive for ESA to order the GMES satellites in a short period of time than to stretch out the contracts over many years.

Liebig said ESA governments might be willing to invest more than the commission does early in the program, but that over the life of the program the 50-50 split must govern ESA-commission GMES spending.

Weissenberg said the commission has had trouble identifying future GMES users who would be willing to pay for the service upfront. Commission authorities managing border control, wetlands, environment, coastal areas and contraband trafficking all are likely to use GMES services, the commission has said. But getting these agencies to agree to finance such a service before the satellites are launched has proved difficult.

“For GMES we have been asking users about their future needs,” Weissenberg said. “It sounds simple, b ut in reality it’s extremely difficult. The user is a very strange animal. It could be you, me, a region, a state, a city — or Mr. Solana. I don’t yet have the feeling that GMES is the big European flagship we all want.”

The final European Commission budget for GMES is scheduled to be published before the end of the year. Liebig said ESA is still evaluating what it will do if the current estimates prove correct and funding is insufficient to build GMES as planned.

Comments: pdeselding@compuserve.com