Jason-3 Satellite Wins Tentative OK from Eumetsat

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PARIS — Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization on July 1 tentatively approved a $90 million contribution to the Jason-3 ocean-altimetry satellite to be built with the United States and France, suggesting that a long intra-European dispute about the program was nearing a resolution.

Meeting at the organization’s Darmstadt, Germany, headquarters, the council of Eumetsat’s 24 member states made nonbinding commitments to finance 63.6 million euros ($90 million) in Jason-3 costs. A formal financial commitment from each Eumetsat government will be requested by December.

The Eumetsat Council also approved spending 18.2 million euros for a three-year extension of Eumetsat’s Indian Ocean Data Coverage service, which uses spare Eumetsat Meteosat satellites to cover a large gap in weather satellite coverage over the Indian Ocean.

The coverage gap has been accentuated by delays in the launch of a Russian geostationarysatellite, and by difficulties in getting Indian government authorities to grant worldwide distribution of certain Indian meteorological satellite data. India has declined to provide full data sets to the United Nations-organized World Weather Watch system, managed by the World Meteorological Organization, out of concern that Pakistan might receive militarily useful data from it.

Eumetsat’s Meteosat-7 satellite, which has been stationed at 57.5 degrees east over the Indian Ocean since mid-2006 — taking over from the retiring Meteosat-5 — will now continue in that role until it is taken out of service in 2014. The mission costs Eumetsat governments about 6 million euros per year.

Jason-3 would follow on from the successful Topex-Poseidon, Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites, whose wave-height and ocean-current measurement data since 1992 have created a substantial user community including the U.S., French and other navies, as well as with environmental organizations around the world.

But funding Jason-3 has been bogged down in protests by some European governments that the program is overly French, benefits French industry disproportionately and is essentially a U.S.-French bilateral that should not win pan-European support.

For Jason-3, the French government has agreed to donate a spare satellite platform, identical to the one used for Jason-2, and to perform payload-integration and other work for Jason-3.

To help complete the funding picture, the executive commission of the 27-nation European Union — whose Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program has clearly signaled that it wants Jason-3 data — has said it would finance Jason-3 investment after the satellite is launched. Similarly, the European Space Agency (ESA) has committed to purchasing Jason-3 data as a way of clearing away funding obstacles.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has budgeted $20 million for Jason-3 in its fiscal-year 2010 budget. Mary E. Kicza, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information service, told Eumetsat on June 30 that the United States is ready to finance its share of the program, which she referred to as “essential,” according to a prepared text of her remarks.

Adding together the tentative commitments from the United States, France, ESA, the European Commission and now Eumetsat should permit the program to reach the necessary financing of about 252 million euros — assuming that Eumetsat’s governments make good on their commitments in December.