The European Union Satellite Center (EUSC), created in 2002 to provide EU governments with rapid-response data
on crisis areas using maps based on satellite data, continues to struggle for full acceptance by European governments despite what these governments say is a priority on multinational cooperation, according to European government and industry officials.


In an example of how EUSC capabilities appear to be given short shrift, six European governments are spending as much money on studies of harmonizing future European space-based reconnaissance systems as they are on the EUSC itself.


These six nations –
Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain –
are investigating how the successors of the French Helios optical, German SAR-Lupe radar and Italian Cosmo-Skymed radar satellite systems can be designed so that their data can be
exchanged freely through a ground network built from the outset with such exchanges in mind.


The work is called MUSIS, or Multinational Space-Based Imaging System. Designers had said that MUSIS needs to result in a concrete design accepted by the nations by mid-2009 to avoid being overtaken by the satellite-replacement requirements of the contributing nations.


But judging from comments made here May 6-7 at the Milspace 2008 conference, MUSIS is far from achieving a consensus on an architecture that would be
financed jointly by the member nations.


Meanwhile, these same nations appear to be shunting aside the EUSC, located in Torrejon, Spain, and already providing the basis for the sort of cooperation MUSIS is seeking.


“The six member states are putting around 10 million euros ($15.5 million) into MUSIS –
the same as the annual budget of EUSC –
and producing mountains of paper, and studies that lead to more studies,” said one industry official whose company has been performing some of those studies. “It’s not coherent.”


Franck Asbeck, director of EUSC, said the center’s annual budget is 11 million euros. In addition to providing the 27-nation EU with crisis-management studies, the center has served to train satellite image analysts in several European nations. Freshly trained, these specialists then return to their home countries to work on national projects.


In addition to the main military reconnaissance projects operated by France, Germany and Italy, the British Defence Ministry has launched a small optical satellite, and the Spanish government has reserved funds for an optical and radar satellite.


But the EUSC continues to rely on images purchased commercially from U.S., Israeli, Canadian or other suppliers. It does not yet have full access to French Helios, Italian Cosmo-Skymed or German SAR-Lupe data, Asbeck said in an interview during the Milspace 2008 conference


“For Helios-1 satellite data, there is a memorandum of understanding concluded in late 2007 that gives us access, in principle,” Asbeck said. “For Helios-2 imagery, we believe signatures on the necessary documents are imminent, so we should have access in the second half of 2008. For Cosmo-Skymed and SAR-Lupe, agreements are still under negotiations, and we think they probably will be concluded in the second half of 2008 as well.” Helios-1 is the first-generation Helios launched in the mid-1990s. Helios-2 provides sharper imagery.


“This is an important step forward,” Asbeck said. “The added value of non-commercial imagery will be considerable. Right now, the highest-resolution data that we are using is not coming from European satellites. In 2007, 80 percent of the imagery we used was of U.S. origin. The rest is Israeli, and we use a little [Canadian] Radarsat as well.”


Asbeck declined to detail the financial agreements governing EUSC access to Helios or other non-commercial imagery. “It’s a bit complicated,” he said, adding that the center has had special approval for access to Helios data for the European crisis intervention in Chad, but that this agreement is limited to that conflict.


The French arms procurement agency, DGA, and Italy’s General Directorate for Telecommunications, IT and Advanced Technology, or Teledife, have been overseeing parallel MUSIS studies on a future system architecture and user ground network since 2006.


Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space, through their French and Italian divisions, have been leading the industrial contractor work. They have concluded that a European satellite-reconnaissance system to succeed today’s French, Italian and German systems between 2014 and 2017 should include three optical spacecraft and between four and six radar satellites.


Questions remain about
how each nation would contribute financially to such a system. Past efforts have run up against national industrial policy issues, and the refusal of one nation to foot the bill for others.


Lt. Col. Antonio Lanzillotti of Teledife
said one program management option could be a public-private partnership along the lines of what the British Defence Ministry has done with its Skynet 5 military telecommunications system. In such a scheme, industry would distribute work-share roles to assure that each nation was represented, and industry would own the orbital assets after providing service guarantees.