PARIS — Europe’s long-struggling Galileo satellite navigation project found firmer ground Feb. 2 with the signing of more than $440 million in contracts for additional satellites and their launch aboard heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets.
As a result, the project is now scheduled to have 26 Galileo satellites in medium Earth orbit by late 2015, with the likelihood of six more to follow a year or two later to round out the in-orbit fleet to 30 operational spacecraft and two spares.
The six final satellites will not be ordered until 2014, when the European Commission’s new seven-year budget takes effect and provides Galileo with a fresh source of cash.
The commission, which is the executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, has proposed spending 7 billion euros ($9.2 billion) on Galileo between 2014 and 2020. It already has spent 3.4 billion euros or more on the program, including the contracts signed Feb. 2.
OHB AG of Bremen, Germany, which bested competitor Astrium Satellites in 2009 in a competition to build 14 Galileo spacecraft, scored a second victory and will build eight more spacecraft under a 255 million-euro contract signed Feb. 2.
OHB Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs signed the contract with Didier Faivre, director of navigation at the 19-nation European Space Agency (ESA), which is acting as Galileo technical manager on behalf of the European Commission.
The per-satellite price of 31.9 million euros for the eight new satellites represents a 21 percent reduction from the price of the 14-satellite contract OHB negotiated in late 2009 and signed in early 2010.
Also signed Feb. 2 was a contract with the Arianespace consortium of Evry, France, for the launch of Galileo satellites aboard at least one, and up to three, heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets.
Under the contract, signed by Faivre and Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall, the commission will pay a booking fee of 30 million euros to freeze the price and secure a launch date.
In a Feb. 3 interview, Faivre said the launch reservations must be confirmed by March 2014, after the start of the commission’s next budget cycle. Arianespace said the launches would occur in 2014 and 2015.
To launch four Galileo satellites at a time into a 23,000-kilometer medium Earth orbit, the Ariane 5 rocket will be subjected to several modifications of its upper stage. In addition to this, a purpose-built dispenser for the satellites will be designed and manufactured by Astrium Space Transportation of Les Mureaux, France.
Astrium signed two contracts for this work: a 30 million-euro contract to be financed by the commission, and a 20 million-euro agreement funded by ESA.
Under current plans, all the other Galileo satellites will be launched, two at a time, aboard the Europeanized version of Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz rocket operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America.
The first two operational Galileo satellites, built by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space, were launched aboard a European Soyuz vehicle in October. The two other satellites in this batch are scheduled for launch in September.
The 14 satellites under construction by OHB from the early 2010 contract are scheduled for launch starting in the spring of 2013. Faivre said the slight delay in the delivery is due to a contract-change notice given to OHB by ESA. It is not due to any major slip-ups at OHB and has not resulted in a late-delivery penalty, he said.
Ten of these 14 satellites have been reserved for Soyuz launches. The remaining four, plus the eight ordered Feb. 2, will be carried to orbit aboard the three Ariane 5 vehicles.
In a statement released after the signing ceremony, which was held in London, the commission stressed the value to British industry of the Galileo program. The principal industrial beneficiary in Britain is small-satellite specialist Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), which is providing the Galileo satellite payloads to OHB.
The commission said SSTL’s work as payload contractor for the 14 satellites ordered in 2010 is valued at 230 million euros, or 41 percent of the total value of the contract awarded to OHB as prime contractor.
For the second order of eight satellites, the commission said, SSTL’s share will be about 90 million euros.
Two other British companies will be playing a role in the manufacturing program. ABSL Space Products of Culham, a subsidiary of EnerSys of Longmont, Colo., will be providing Galileo satellite batteries under a contract valued at about 1.6 million euros, and ComDev UK, a subsidiary of ComDev of Canada, will provide filters under a contract valued at 1 million euros.
Astrium’s Second Shot at Galileo
Astrium viewed the face-off with OHB for the eight-satellite order as a way to avenge the loss of the initial 14-satellite contract. With the commission having formally stated its intention to maintain two satellite suppliers in the program, Astrium might have had an advantage.
The problem for Astrium was that the new contract called for satellites that resembled those being built by OHB and not the four Galileo in-orbit-validation satellites Astrium and Thales Alenia Space have built. As such, Astrium officials said they were at a disadvantage in this fresh competition with OHB.
Astrium Chief Executive Francois Auque conceded as much in Jan. 19 comments to journalists, saying the disadvantages to Astrium inherent in the competition were so formidable that the company might not have bid at all were it not for its “sporting nature.”
What is more, Auque said, Astrium’s ownership of SSTL means Astrium generates more profit if OHB wins the competition and uses Surrey to build the payloads than it would if Astrium won the bidding as prime contractor.
What Auque did not say was that Astrium had decided on a new approach in seeking to win the second round of Galileo satellite construction.
Instead of using an Astrium-built satellite skeletal structure, or bus, it would use a platform developed by SSTL for that company’s planned entry into the geostationary satellite telecommunications market. The platform would also borrow from SSTL’s work on the Giove-A satellite, which was launched in December 2005. Giove-A’s main mission was to secure radio spectrum for Galileo, which is designed as a 30-satellite constellation in medium Earth orbit.
The 660-kilogram Giove-A, built in 30 months for 28 million euros, was designed to last for little more than two years in orbit. It is now in its seventh year and is still functioning.
For the payload, Astrium decided, apparently recently, to replace Thales Alenia Space’s electronics with a payload suite built by Astrium’s British division, possibly with SSTL components.
But to employ SSTL-based elements in its bid, Astrium was forced to make educated guesses about costs based on public-domain information about SSTL’s product line. Astrium’s ownership of SSTL had obliged the two companies to create firewalls between their operations with respect to all Galileo work.
To avoid any conflicts with its OHB partnership, SSTL had refused to join Astrium’s bid and did not provide price quotes.
This produced the unusual situation in which Astrium was making a firm, fixed-price contract bid without the cooperation of a major designated hardware provider.
One industry official said the Astrium move was “a clear conflict of authority that could have faced legal challenge under European law” if the commission had selected it. Another disagreed, saying that nothing prohibited Astrium from incorporating SSTL hardware into its bid, so long as Astrium accepted responsibility for the bid specifications and costs.
“As long as Astrium had no direct knowledge of SSTL’s bid with OHB, I am not sure there is any legal constraint that would prevent Astrium from doing this,” this industry official said.
Faivre agreed, saying Astrium’s choice of subcontractors — with or without these subcontractors’ price agreement — was Astrium’s responsibility and posed no legal quandary for ESA.
The company clearly left out in the cold was Thales Alenia Space, whose officials until recently had assumed they were the payload integrator for the Astrium-led bid. As such, they said, Thales Alenia Space, whose work on non-geostationary-orbit satellites includes the Globalstar and Iridium mobile communications constellations and the O3b Networks broadband project, did not make its own bid.
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