German Showcase Missions Figure in DLR Space Plan

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PARIS — The German government is pursuing development of a national telecommunications satellite to carry civil and military payloads and also is investing in a system designed to remove dead satellites from orbit, the head of Germany’s space agency said.

The two missions — the civil-military Heinrich Hertz telecommunications satellite and the Deutsche Orbital Servicing Mission (DEOS) — are showcase projects that German space officials view as ways to promote German technology and German industry outside a pan-European context.

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the executive board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said his 2011 budget for national efforts is not rising as much as Germany’s contributions to the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), but is nonetheless rising.

For 2011, Germany’s contribution to ESA is expected to be 713.8 million euros ($971 million), a 14 percent increase over 2010 that reflects major German commitments at a late-2008 ESA conference that decided future programs.

Germany is expected to add to those commitments in March as ESA settles, after a months-long debate, who will contribute how much to operations of the international space station through 2020, a five-year extension.

In a Jan. 27 interview, Woerner said Germany’s goal that station operations be funded at 380 million euros per year has failed to win support from France and other ESA station contributors. He accepted that a lower figure would be agreed to, and that this would mean sacrificing some of the planned station-related investments between now and the retirement of the orbital complex.

“France said very clearly it would not go for that,” Woerner said of Germany’s proposal that ESA governments contribute 3.8 billion euros to operate and use the station for the 10 years ending in 2020. “Clearly we will have to reduce some planned activities. Which ones? This has not been decided. The station’s budget is complex, and includes operating the facility, transport and ground stations. My hope is that we can reduce the funding without compromising the scientific work.”

Germany has agreed with France that Europe’s Arianespace commercial launch consortium should receive additional government financial support once a series of financial audits of Arianespace and its suppliers is completed in March.

Woerner defended ESA’s decision to demand the audits, saying that despite ESA’s 30 years of involvement with Arianespace and Ariane rocket development, ESA governments do not know much about the profitability of building, selling and operating Ariane vehicles. This is true, he said, despite the fact that the French space agency, CNES, has been Arianespace’s biggest shareholder since the company was founded.

“Arianespace is a private company operating under French corporate laws,” Woerner said. “French law is different from German law. Even the [Arianespace] shareholders don’t know the financial details, or about the financial relations with subcontractors. That’s what they tell me.”

Woerner said DLR would like to see Arianespace’s shareholder makeup changed so that ESA governments all have a stake in the company. But he said he would not favor the company being transferred entirely to the public sector, with ESA governments as the sole shareholders.

“What we want is more transparency,” Woerner said of Arianespace’s operations and the profit-and-loss picture of its contractors. “The debate is what the shareholder structure will be. We think we can maintain the current structure, with modifications on behalf of transparency.”

Most of DLR’s budget comes from the Ministry of Economics and Technology, but the Transport Ministry pays for Germany’s contribution to some programs, such as the annual budget of Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization. The Transport Ministry finances Germany’s share of ESA work on Eumetsat programs as well.

The Economics Ministry has budgeted 242 million euros in 2011 for DLR’s space activities, a 9 percent increase over 2010. Recent budget additions include DLR’s contract with the Swedish Space Corp. to purchase the two-satellite Prisma mission, already in orbit, to test formation-flying techniques.

Precise maneuvering in space is becoming a focus of DLR work. Germany’s two radar Earth observation satellites, TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X, are viewed as part of this effort. The two spacecraft have been moved close to one another in low Earth orbit to provide 3-D imagery for users.

Woerner said DEOS should be viewed as another piece in this strategy. DLR has been working for years on a system that could refuel satellites in orbit to extend their lives, or push them into retirement orbits.

In a written response to Space News questions, DLR said it is spending 7 million euros on DEOS’s Phase A and Phase B. DLR said in the statement that DEOS’s system requirements review is scheduled for February, with a preliminary design review set for September and “the transition to phase C/D at the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012.”

Woerner said DLR was aware that other agencies and companies around the world had sought and failed to find a viable DEOS-type business model, but that DLR believes it has the necessary expertise to make such a system work.

The Heinrich Hertz telecommunications satellite completed its Phase A in September at a cost of 2 million euros to DLR. DLR says in its statement that Germany’s Defense Ministry has agreed to participate in development of an operational payload, which will require an updated mission design review.

DLR declined to say how much it planned to spend on the satellite this year.