OHB’s Wunderkind Galileo Project Set to Leave the Nursery

By | April 16, 2010 | Feature, Government

[Satellite News 04-16-10] In January, medium-sized German space systems provider OHB Systems received its largest single order to date — a 566 million euro ($767.8 million) contract from the European Commission (EC) to build the first Galileo satellites, the European Union’s (EU) declaration of independence from the U.S. GPS and Russian Glonass navigation systems.
    The unlikely contract winner delivered a welcomed boost to the German economy, beating out Europe’s largest space companies, such as EADS Astrium, for the award. “We were able to offer a price that was approximately 100 million euros cheaper than EADS,” OHB spokesman Steffen Leuthold told Satellite News, “The program should provide around 100,000 new jobs in Europe as a whole. German economists are already rubbing their hands because, as the EU has declared, the remaining satellites will be developed in Germany as well, either by OHB or Astrium.”
    OHB, founded 25 years ago in Bremen, is Germany’s first stock market-based aerospace company and employs more than 1,600 people. While the company has a long history of constructing small satellites, it has never taken on a project this large.
    Despite the size of the project, Leuthold said that the process is running smoothly, both internally and with its contract partners. “Currently, the measures for implementation of the Galileo program are full swing. OHB will outsource 70 percent of its total contract to subcontractors all over Europe and will begin the assembly of the first satellite at OHB’s facility in Bremen no later than mid-2011,” he said. “The cooperation with European competitors is running smoothly and we are confident of being able to fulfill our part of the agreement.”
OHB expects that all 14 satellites will be tested and ready to explore space by early 2014.
    The satellite’s manufacturers are convinced that Galileo will establish a reliable reputation and outperform the U.S.-based GPS system, which European military and civil forces have felt anxious relying on ever since the U.S. military blocked allies from using GPS during the Kosovo conflict. That incident left German military ground forces several kilometers off target and uncoordinated with operation partners.
    With the focus of Galileo’s 32 satellites set on civil service, the recipe for the system’s success, according to Leuthold, seems simple: Europe must provide ground, sea and air navigation system users with a safer and more precise system. The system will also be able to provide other specialized directional services such as assistance to the blind, Alzheimer’s patients and children. OHB also points out that the major advantage of Galileo is that it has the ability to be used together with GPS, which means that end users do not have to switch between the systems and will have twice the number of satellites available and faster access.
   But OHB and the EU are also well aware of Galileo’s potential complications with costs. EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani said he is approaching the management of the program very carefully. “We can not say for sure whether the estimated costs could be met by 3.4 billion euros in EU funds. The main focus for controlling costs is on the launchers. Fuel costs could endanger the project. In that case, the carrier could be fitted with only two instead of four satellites. In addition, the EU has not yet decided who to transfer the responsibility of satellite operation over to and who to name as a subcontractor to provide services,” said Tajani.
   According to Leuthold, OHB is well aware of the launch-related obstacles as it has already supplied components for Arianespace’s Ariane 5 launcher and co-developed the European Columbus research module. “Surely the EU can not afford to postpone the project a second time. Compass and Glonass from China and Russia are also ready to go and GPS will not sit and wait too long. The first launch is scheduled for October 2012. The EU should have a plan of action concerning the budget by then.”
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