KOUROU, French Guiana — European Commission Vice President GuenterVerheugen said backers of a U.S.-European Jason-3 ocean altimetry mission should not count on getting commission funds to help pay for the satellite.
In a press briefing here June 22 following a meeting of European government representatives to discuss space policy here, Verheugen said that despite
pressure in favor of Jason-3, it is by no means certain that the commission will step in to fill the gap in funds needed to pay for the mission.
“It is going to be difficult to find the financing,” Verheugen said. “I cannot exclude a response that says, ‘No, it is simply not possible.’ I hope to have a response before the end of this summer.”
One government official said that while he was surprised at Verheugen’s remarks, he was encouraged that Verheugen, who does not normally keep abreast of space industry affairs, appeared to be aware of the details of Jason-3.
Jason-3 would be a satellite to provide continuity of altimetry data that began in 1992 with the U.S.-French Topex-Poseidon satellite and has continued with the launch of Jason-
2001 and Jason-2 last June.
The Jason program has won fresh financial backing from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its European counterpart, the Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization of
But the arrival of NOAA and Eumetsat as Jason users and financial contributors has not been enough to cover the absence of NASA in Jason-3’s budget. NASA has decided not to participate, saying research organizations such as the
space agency should not need to pay for operational services provided by successive models of the same satellite.
The French space agency, CNES, also has taken that view but nonetheless has offered a spare Jason-2 platform, already built, for Jason-3. NOAA and Eumetsat have signaled their tentative approval for the cash contributions needed to fund Jason-3.
But the mission, estimated to cost 238 million euros ($377 million) including operations, is about 46 million euros short of what it needs.
The European Commission has been seen as an emergency source of funds for Jason-3 because the commission is financing part of
‘s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES, system of satellite Earth observations. Part of GMES’s mandate is ocean observations, and GMES users have pointed to the continuity of Jason-type data as a high priority for them.
The European Space Agency (ESA), which is GMES’s other principal paymaster, has removed Jason-3 from its future budget considerations, in part because it is not European enough to meet GMES criteria. Jason-3, like Jason-2, would be launched by a U.S.-provided rocket using a French satellite platform. Other European contributors have a small role, making it difficult for ESA to take part.
One commission official said
have indicated that they would not back a commission investment in Jason-3. “We cannot go against the wishes of several of our largest member states,” this official said. “There is also the problem of precedent. If I agree to finance a part of Jason-3, other [Earth observation] satellite systems will be lined up outside our door asking for support. Believe me, we are well aware of the Jason-3 problem but it is by no means easy for us to find a solution.”
Jason-3 is missing about 46 million euros from its budget, but this includes operations, whose funding can be decided at a later date, officials said. The commission is being asked just for 21 million euros – the missing share of the capital investment budget needed to start the mission – and to sign a contract with satellite builder ThalesAlenia Space of France and Italy.
Industry officials have said the contract would need to be signed this year to assure the launch of the satellite before Jason-2 reaches the end of its projected service life in 2013.