Jason-3 Plans Clouded by Funding Uncertainty

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  Space News Business

Jason-3 Plans Clouded by Funding Uncertainty

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 11 July 2007
03:53 pm ET
















CANNES, France —


A U.S.-European cooperative effort




on ocean topography studies that has won praise from military users and civilian researchers




on both sides of the Atlantic has yet to find sufficient funding to assure the program’s continuation, according to two of the participating organizations.

As a result, they said, it remains uncertain whether




the planned Jason-3 ocean-altimetry satellite will be financed and built in time to replace the Jason-2 satellite scheduled for launch in June 2008.

Jason-2 – which had funding and schedule problems of its own – is set to enter several months of testing at prime contractor ThalesAlenia Space’s satellite production facility here. It is scheduled for launch in June aboard a United Launch Alliance




Delta 2 rocket




as part of the U.S. contribution to the




mission. Program managers are hopeful that the Jason-1 satellite it will replace, which was launched in December 2001 and designed to last just five years in orbit, will remain operational until then.

NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are dividing the U.S. share of




Jason-2’s cost, covering




satellite instruments




as well as the Delta 2 rocket.

In Europe, it is NOAA’s traditional partner in meteorology, the 20-nation Eumetsat organization, and the French space agency, CNES, that are contributing to Jason-2. Jason-2’s total cost




, including the construction and launch of the satellite and five years of operations, is




about 330 million euros ($447




million).

The same four-party group




built and launched Jason-1 in 2001. CNES and NASA shared the cost




of the Topex-Poseidon satellite, a Jason-1 precursor launched in 1992 on a mission that eventually won




the support of NOAA and Eumetsat. The latter








agencies are focused not on research and development but on data that is operationally useful in providing weather forecasts and environmental services.

The ruling council of Darmstadt, Germany-based Eumetsat, which is paying about 10 percent of the cost




of Jason-2, has agreed in principle to contribute




20 percent of the estimated 250 million euros needed to build, launch and operate Jason-3.

But MikailRattenborg, director of operations at Eumetsat, cautioned that Eumetsat’s participation has not been confirmed, and will be contingent on the participation of the other partners – especially NOAA and, for the first time, the executive commission of the 27-nation European Union.



“The exact level of our participation has not been fixed,” Rattenborg said here July 5 during a series of briefings on Jason-2. “It is pending a full agreement on the respective agencies’ roles. A large number of issues need to be resolved before our council will vote on an actual program proposal for Jason-3.”



NASA has indicated that since it is




a research and development agency, its role in Jason missions should now be taken up by operational agencies like NOAA and Eumetsat.

CNES has adopted the same line of reasoning, but has made an exception for Jason-3 because the agency has an existing spare model of the satellite platform used for both Jason-1 and Jason-2.

Pascale
Ultre-Guerard, head of Earth observation programs at CNES, said the agency will limit its role in Jason-3 to technology oversight and provision of the platform – the minimum necessary to assure a trouble-free development sequence.

“We are not putting any fresh cash into Jason-3,” Ultre-Guerard said. “We view this as a transition phase for the program as it moves from research into full operational status.”

She said CNES’s Jason-3 contribution is estimated at 50 million euros – the same amount as what is being asked of Eumetsat and the European Commission.

While the Jason satellite series is being funded exclusively by civilian agencies, operational oceanography is fast becoming a regular tool for military planners.

“The chief military requirement concerns the ability to know and predict conditions affecting underwater propagation of acoustic signals, which are vital for submarine warfare and for protecting strategic ocean forces and surface forces,” CNES said in an assessment of the Jason satellites. “Other requirements expressed include wind/wave products useful for identifying ‘ambient noise’ and coupled ocean/atmosphere weather forecasting to aid in assuring ‘ocean superiority.'”

Ultre-Guerard
said the Jason satellites are dual-use systems, with the data being made available to more than 700 user teams in 59 nations as of last December. As is often the case with information




linked to meteorology,




Jason data is




delivered without discrimination to nations whose military forces are not traditional partners of Europe and the United States – including Iran and China.