After a seven-week holdout, Portugal on Jan. 21 gave its permission to begin development of a multibillion-euro geostationary weather satellite system for Europe, a Eumetsat official said Jan. 25.

The Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization’s planned Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) constellation has been held up by a number of issues, including a high-profile dispute between Germany and France over which companies would build the spacecraft. The 26 member nations met in Darmstadt, Germany, Dec. 1, where it was expected that a final agreement to begin construction would be reached. Portugal was the only nation that would not agree, and Eumetsat bylaws require unanimous consent to begin work on so-called mandatory programs.

The nation finally gave its approval Jan. 21, allowing work to begin that month, said Johannes Schmetz, director of Eumetsat’s meteorological division. “That means MTG can start,” Schmetz said at a meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Seattle.

Eumetsat currently operates four geostationary weather satellites, the oldest of which, Meteosat-6, will be de-orbited in the next few months, Schmetz said. The third and fourth satellites in the Meteosat Second Generation fleet are scheduled to launch in 2012 and 2016.

Eumetsat has budgeted 2.37 billion euros ($3.25 billion) for the MTG program, while the European Space Agency has committed to cover the remaining 1.26 billion euros. The first of six satellites is planned for launch in 2017 or 2018.

In March, Eumetsat chose Thales Alenia Space of France, which was partnered with OHB Technology of Germany, to be the MTG prime contractor. Germany had expected Astrium Satellites to be chosen for the lead role, sparking several months of dispute over program leadership.

A compromise was reached in June that gave Astrium a greater share of the instrument development work.



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