Europe’s meteorological satellite organization, the 20-nation Eumetsat, has been quietly moving toward center stage in Europe’s plans for a future environmental monitoring capability.
The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) project, financed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission, is gradually evolving into a system in which Eumetsat would have a key operational role.
The two GMES sponsors may have more incentive to entrust
with operational control after the collapse of efforts to create a new operating company for Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system using both private and public investment.
already has begun widening its area of responsibility beyond weather forecasting with its investment in the Jason series of ocean-monitoring satellites, a cooperative effort with the U.S. and French governments.
How big a role Eumetsat will play in GMES
and how it will be financed
In the meantime, Eumetsat must stick to its core business of guaranteeing a European weather-satellite capacity. The first of the polar-orbiting Metop satellites,
part of a U.S.-European collaboration, recently entered operations.
Now on the agenda for Eumetsat and ESA is the next-generation Meteosat
geostationary-orbiting satellites. Eumetsat
recently decided on design of the Meteosat Third Generation (MTG), and has approved the initial preparatory work. The Darmstadt, Germany-based organization also accepted a novel financial proposal to encourage Middle Eastern nations to help finance Eumetsat’s extended operations over the Indian Ocean.
Rattenborg, director of operations for Eumetsat
, discussed the organization’s
recent decisions with Space News staff writer Peter B. de Selding.
What is the status of the
program to replace the second-generation system now in geostationary orbit?
We have agreed on a system design using two satellites – one carrying our principal imaging sensor, and the other to carry an infrared sounding instrument. The first must be ready for launch by 2015. For the second, we have a little more leeway and it can be launched in 2017.
Why have you decided to split the mission into two satellites?
Developing the infrared sounding instrument will be new for Europe, and it is prudent to give it the extra amount of time.
Purchasing the instrument in the United States was not an option?
Going outside of Europe for this would add more complications than it would solve, and would mean redesigning the system from scratch.
Will you co-locate the two satellites at a single orbital slot?
That has not been determined yet. What we know is that by 2020 we will have three satellites in orbit: a prime imaging satellite, plus an in-orbit backup for it, plus a third satellite with the infrared sounding instrument.
The satellites – each weighing less than 3,000 kilograms at launch – will have an expected service life of eight years, meaning we will have to have a second group of three satellites ready by 2022.
Will you be able to order all six satellite platforms from the same contractor?
This is probably what we will do, although we may divide the prime contractor’s responsibilities between two companies even if one builds all six satellite platforms. It will depend on the industrial setup decided by ESA.
What is the budget of MTG and what are
the respective roles of ESA and Eumetsat
in the program
Our member states have asked us to fit the program into a budget comparable to that of the Meteosat Second Generation, which is slightly more than 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in current economic conditions. The plan is that the roles of ESA and Eumetsat will remain the same as for the earlier Meteosats. ESA will be design authority and will contract the satellite work with industry. Eumetsat will pay for launch and operations, as well as the ground segment.
Did Eumetsat ever consider taking charge of MTG completely?
I don’t think we’re geared to be responsible for a full industrial space segment contract. We don’t have the size or the expertise for it. This has never been actively considered for MTG.
What are your calendar milestones for MTG?
Our member governments in June gave us tentative approval to start preparatory activities, pending some formal signatures that a couple of our members needed. In the
fall we should be ready to begin this preparatory phase, for which we have budgeted 30 million euros at Eumetsat. ESA has a ministerial council scheduled for late 2008 at which their decisions should be made. A full-scale construction contract for the space and ground segments should start in 2010.
Will you have problems with this schedule if ESA’s ministerial council meeting is postponed beyond
We have a very tight coordination with ESA and we have been assured that a delay in the ministerial meeting will not produce a corresponding delay in their decision-making on the program.
Eumetsat has relocated Meteosat spacecraft over the Indian Ocean – out of your normal territory – since 1998 to
compensate for delays in the launch of a Russian meteorological satellite and to partially compensate for the unavailability of certain Indian weathersatellite data. How long will this continue?
The Indian Ocean Data Coverage program was scheduled to end in late 2008. In June our member states approved its extension to the end of 2010.
What will this two-year extension cost Eumetsat?
About 14 million euros. Our member states some two years ago told us to seek other financing sources in the region. We tried through the Gulf Cooperation Council but that proved too complicated. What we have tentatively agreed to now is to implement a modified data-access policy there.
What will this mean?
Currently, wealthy nations in the region get access to the full suite of data for 100,000 euros per year. We have now agreed to increase that to 300,000 euros per year. If we succeed, we will be able to generate about 2 million euros per year to cover our costs.
You are incurring costs of 7 million euros per year. Recouping just 2 million euros is sufficient?
It appears to be the best realistic alternative. Everyone agrees that this program should continue. We are using satellites that are no longer needed by Eumetsat. But this cannot be a permanent situation. The Meteosat 7 satellite now delivering this Indian Ocean data is scheduled to be taken out of service in 2015. We don’t know whether at that point we will have any available spare capacity.