ESA Hopes For Satellite Navigation Co-operation

By | June 4, 2003 | Feature

Galileo will be a complementary global satellite navigation system, rather than a competitor to the American Global Positioning System (GPS) system, said Antonio Rodota, the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA). His comments came after it was announced that ESA member states had finally come to agreement about shareholder and management structure for the ambitious project, which had been beset by delays.

The system, which is due to be launched in 2008, is being funded to the tune of 3.2 billion euros ($3.76 billion). It will consist of 30 satellites (27 operational and 3 reserve) occupying three circular orbits, inclined at 56 degrees to the equator, at an altitude of 26,616 kilometers.

U.S. Scepticism

The U.S. government has not always been the biggest supporter of the Galileo project. It has questioned the viability of the project, as well as the interference risk Galileo might pose to the U.S. GPS system already in place.

Rodota does not share these concerns. He told Interspace: “If you look at the use of Galileo as well as GPS, one of the main advantages of having both systems is that the service can be guaranteed at all times. If there is a redundant system, either Galileo or GPS, this guarantees service for the Europeans as well as the Americans. This will enhance the use of the system on both sides.”

The agreement among ESA member states paves the way for the launch of the legal entity, Galileo Joint Undertaking, that will have the unenviable task of co-ordinating ESA and European Union involvement in Galileo. It will be responsible for all aspects of Galileo’s development and operations. The agreement last week comes after much wrangling among member states on the make-up of Galileo.

There had been conflicts between Germany and Italy over issues such as management and the location of headquarters, and Spain had also wanted to increase its stake in the project from 9 to 11 per cent. Spain has accepted a 10.14 per cent stake in the project. Rodota had told Interspace in February (Issue 762) that these disputes were putting the programme in jeopardy. “If we lose additional time in this decision process, this programme could be lost forever,” he stressed.

Change in Fortune

Rodota is delighted about the positive outcome. “Europe is sending a very strong and positive message: there is no longer a division among European member states. We are more than pleased about that. We have spent quite a lot of time to reach this agreement.”

The cooperation between ESA and the EU is unprecedented, and Rodota believes the work that has gone into Galileo could have a stimulative effect on other joint projects. “This is the first time that we are able to build a complete infrastructure for Europe, a real pan-European system. It is also the first time that ESA has developed a programme with the European Union. We have been able to start a new cooperation between the two institutions, and at the same time, build something that will unite Europe. We believe there are a number of lessons to be learned for the future in terms of being fast enough to react to new challenges.”

Numerous Benefits

The Galileo project will be one of the centrepieces of the European space industry over the next few years. According to Rodota, the project will have numerous benefits. He pointed to assessments that there could be up to another 150,000 jobs created. Galileo could also be used to make transport more efficient in areas such as railway and vehicle control. Improving transport infrastructure will have benefits for European industry as a whole, he added.

The delays, while not ideal, have also not been that costly. “We are not risking losing the frequencies that have been allocated to Galileo. Like in all projects, we have factored in potential delays. Certain operations could not be implemented at full speed because of the delays and this generated small additional costs. If an agreement had been reached earlier, these costs could have been avoided. However, I don’t think there is any difficulty in terms of meeting the targets.”

Boost For Arianespace

Also last week, ESA ministers decided to support Europe’s main commercial launch operator Arianespace.

The ministers agreed to foster the use of the Ariane 5 for institutional purposes between 2005 and 2009. They also decided to support the qualification of the new and more powerful 10-tonne version of the rocket with two scheduled flights in 2004, as well as reducing production costs. The overall package for Arianespace is worth close to one billion euros ($1.17 billion).

Rodota believes the 10-tonne rocket will prove its worth. He said: “We plan to have the first qualification launch in March next year. A second qualification flight is scheduled for September next year to launch ESA’s automated transfer vehicle (ATV) to the International Space Station, so we are confident that the problem is understood and we are on the way to solving all technical issues. A number of tests are already being performed in order to assess the situation. You are also raising the point on what is best for Europe. Having a 10-tonne rocket is very much related to market needs. We are going to 10-tonnes because we feel this is the proper size of the launcher in order to play a significant role in the market place.”

ESA also agreed to allow Russian Soyuz rockets to be launched from Arianespace’s Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, beginning in 2006. “We have a large launcher, which is the Ariane 5 ECA and we will have a small launcher, VEGA. We lack the capability in the medium size rocket arena and Soyuz could complement the range of launchers we have in Europe,” Rodota said.

Suzanne K. Chambers with Arianespace explained the relation between her company and the Russians. “We already have a partnership with the Russians through our Starsem venture to do commercial marketing of Soyuz from Baikonur Cosmodrome. This would be an extension of that,” Chambers said. Arianespace owns 15 percent of Evry, France-based Starsem; EADS owns 35 percent; Russian Aviation and Space Agency owns 25 percent; and Samara Space Center owns 25 percent, she added.

As part of the Ariane 5 restructuring, the French space agency CNES agreed to cede authority back to ESA as part of an effort to restore the reliability and credibility of the Ariane 5 program, which has seen its share of failures.

“We had delegated to the French space agency CNES control over Ariane. Now we are taking that back. France has given up that task because we found that [the production of Ariane] was spread over too many contractors with responsibility delegated to too many people. So now we are getting things back in our hand,” said ESA official Franco Bonacina.

Part of the reorganization of responsibilities includes designating the European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co. as the prime contractor for the Ariane program. In exchange, EADS has agreed to reduce production costs by consolidating the number of subcontractors. “By consolidating under a prime contractor, we should be able to streamline the production processes. [EADS] gains a bigger role as prime contractor; in return, they’ve agreed to lower prices. It’s a tit for tat deal,” said Chambers.

–Mark Holmes and Fred Donovan

(Contact: Franco Bonacina, ESA, e:mail: Franco.bonacina@esa.int; Suzanne Chambers, Arianespace, e:mail: sc@arianespace-inc.com)

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