Profile: GMES Decision Hits EADS Astrium UK’s Bottom Line

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  Space News Business

Profile: GMES Decision Hits EADS Astrium UK’s Bottom Line

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 24 April 2006
01:54 pm ET


PRIVATE stylefile:c:!temp!~pr00000b700001001a58ff000.STY Profile: Colin Paynter

Managing director, EADS Astrium UK

PRIVATE stylefile:c:!temp!~pr00000b700001001a58ff000.STY S atellite builder EADS Astrium UK has been a beneficiary of the British government’s long-standing interest in military telecommunications, and is about to bear the cost of its government’s decision not to match French, German and Italian investment in Earth observation.

Astrium UK is prime contractor for the British Skynet 5 satellites, a contract that recently was extended to include parts for a fourth spacecraft. The Skynet 5 business arrived just as the global commercial telecommunications market was contracting. The work has spared many of Astrium UK’s 2,500 employees, including 400 contractor employees, from what might have been a painful series of layoffs.

On the negative side of the ledger, the surprising British government decision in December to limit its participation in the European Space Agency (ESA) Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program to 5 percent is almost certain to deny Astrium UK the job as prime contract for a radar satellite called Sentinel-1.

Astrium UK Managing Director Colin Paynter discussed the company’s current business and outlook with Space News staff writer Peter B. de Selding.

The British government’s participation in ESA’s GMES program is too small to permit you to be prime contractor for the first GMES satellite, Sentinel-1, even though you were selected for the work. Might the situation change?

We are working with the government on this. I met with the prime minister recently and we will work with the DTI [U.K. Department of Trade and Industry] to look at various alternatives before the summer recess.

The problem is with the structure of U.K. space funding. In France and Germany, space is considered an infrastructure program to be funded by public authorities, and the users are presumed to benefit. In the U.K., government has a user-driven approach, which calls for users to finance programs that interest them.

For GMES, the lead agency in Britain is DEFRA — the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I was extremely disappointed that DEFRA did not come forward with a full GDP-level [Gross Domestic Product] offering for GMES, particularly given the importance of GMES for the study of climate change.

A user-driven policy is exactly the right way to go, but implementation calls for a very mature user community. In this case it is difficult to ask departments like DEFRA to lead what is essentially a technology and infrastructure program.

What would be the value of the Sentinel-1 work? The first satellite is expected to cost around 220 million euros ($264 million), with follow-on satellites costing around 150 million euros.

Have you abandoned hope of getting the contract?

The chances of affecting the spending decisions this year are relatively low. But we continue to work with government on their critical spending review, which is expected to occur in late 2006 and early 2007. We are making a strong case that space investment affects the economy.

The first Skynet 5 military communications satellite is scheduled for launch late this year. Is it on schedule?

We are on schedule. The Skynet 5A and 5B satellites are now both being put through final testing at the Intespace facility in Toulouse, France, and we expect the Skynet 5A to launch in the fourth quarter. We have three possible vehicles we can use — the Ariane 5 ECA, the Ariane 5 GS and the Sea Launch vehicle, and we are confident the launch will occur this year.

We also are progressing on schedule with the Skynet 5C, and under the follow-on contract we received in late 2005 we will be building a full suite of payload components for an eventual fourth satellite.

What about the Skynet 5 ground facilities?

We are building satellite control centers for Skynet 5 that also will be able to control the current Skynet 4 spacecraft in orbit. We expect to deliver these facilities in the middle of this year.

You provide the payloads for a new Astrium commercial telecommunications satellite line that uses a platform built by the Indian Space Research Organis ation (ISRO). What is the market outlook for that platform ?

We provide the payload to ISRO, which then does the final integration and testing. This will be an attractive product for new entrants to the satellite operations business. It opens up new markets and could lead to orders for larger satellites. We think perhaps two orders per year is a reasonable forecast. It’s a niche market that we don’t see taking away from the market for our larger Eurostar satellite products.

The European Space Agency (ESA) in December signed a contract valued at 1 billlion euros for the first four Galileo navigation satellites and the full Galileo ground segment. What is your role?

We will be providing payload components for the four satellites and the ground control centers for the Galileo system.

Will your work on the payloads for the four Galileo test satellites be delayed to verify the performance of the experimental Giove-B Galileo prototype to be launched late in 2006?

I would certainly like to see Giove-B launched and flying as soon as possible, especially to confirm the performance of the reference signal and the on board clock. Giove-B is a key confidence builder. Having said that, I certainly understand that there is no immediate need for the satellite. We will be continuing on schedule with the development of the payload and will not be delayed by the Giove-B launch date.

What are the delivery dates for the four Galileo satellites?

The first will be launched in 2008, with the final satellites in 2009. The payload contract is worth 135 million euros.

What is your role in the ground segment for Galileo?

We design and build the satellite control centers. The Galileo satellites individually are relatively simple, but we need to manage the entire fleet in orbit. Our contract is for the control centers for the full Galileo fleet, not just the first four spacecraft. We have placed most of the subcontracts for this work and we plan a system critical design review in the third quarter of this year.

The total ground control contract is worth 65 million euros.

Astrium invested some of its own money into the failed Beagle-2 Mars lander, which presumably crashed on Mars in December 2003. Beagle-2 made headlines the world over, but has it had a lasting effect in Britain?

The effects of missions like this fade quite quickly unless there is a follow-up. It certainly created a lot of interest in science and technology at the time, but these things do fade within a year unless something else takes over.

For us, the Beagle-2 mission has had a lasting effect on our relations with university laboratories. It forced us into a stronger collaboration than we had had, and this step-up value provided by Beagle-2 has remained. We collaborate much better now with universities. It is also true that the UK government’s strong support for ESA’s Aurora [Mars rover] program is due in part to the Beagle-2 effect .