Galileo Moves Forward with Arctic Control Center Launch

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PARIS — European government authorities on Dec. 13 inaugurated an Arctic tracking and control center for the future Galileo satellite navigation system in the latest signal that the program is moving forward despite the absence of funds to complete it.

The Kiruna Galileo Ground Station, located at Swedish Space Corp.’s Esrange facility in northern Sweden, “will show the world that Galileo is becoming a reality and is not just paperwork,” Rene Oosterlinck, director of navigation programs at the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), said during the inauguration ceremony.

ESA and the European Commission have been co-financing Galileo, with the Brussels, Belgium-based commission now in charge of overall program management.

Oosterlinck said the Kiruna facility and a second tracking, telemetry and control site already built on the equator are needed for Galileo’s in-orbit validation phase, which includes four satellites to be launched in 2011.

Only 14 other Galileo satellites have been ordered despite the system’s design of 30 spacecraft in medium Earth orbit, and only 10 of these satellites have secured launch contracts. The reason is that the project is costing more than the European Commission anticipated when it last sought budget approval.

With many European nations facing severe deficits, it has been difficult to raise the additional funds needed. European officials say the most likely scenario is for the project to limp along in a limited configuration until the commission’s next seven-year budget is approved in 2014, at which time the remaining funds might be found.

Meanwhile, the prime contractors for the 14 Galileo satellites — OHB Technology of Germany with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Britain — expect to deliver their first two satellites in 2012.

Norspace of Horten, Norway, on Dec. 13 announced its selection by SSTL as prime contractor for the 14 satellites’ frequency generator and up-converter unit, and the search-and-rescue transponder, in contracts expected to have a combined value of more than 20 million euros ($27 million).

The selection follows a decision by Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, to sign a cooperation agreement with the European Commission to permit Norwegian companies to participate in Galileo work.

While some Galileo hardware is allowed to be purchased outside Europe, active payloads are reserved for European contractors. Canada’s Com Dev had been given the nod by ESA to build the search-and-rescue payloads, but European authorities ruled that a non-European company could not be prime contractor for the payload. Similar reasoning was used to remove Chinese-built search-and-rescue transponders from the demonstration satellites set for launch this year.

European Commission authorities then turned to Norway, which in September agreed to invest 70 million euros into the project in return for contracts to Norwegian companies.

Norspace Chief Executive Sverre Bisgaard said his company reported slightly more than 11 million euros in total revenue in 2009. The Galileo work thus “signifies a major jump in the company’s order portfolio,” Bisgaard said in a statement. He said he expected further work on Galileo once the remaining satellites are ordered.