Outgoing ESA Galileo Director Oosterlinck Thinks Program in Better Shape
[Satellite News 02-14-11] Rene Oosterlinck was the European Space Agency’s (ESA) first full-time director of the Galileo program, serving from early 2008 through the end of 2010. Oosterlinck was tasked not only to manage the development of the complex program but also control costs, and the program now is projected to cost more than 5.3 billion euros ($7.13 billion) to complete.
Oosterlinck spoke with Satellite News about the challenges he has faced over the last three years and where Europe’s most talked about space program goes next.
Satellite News: What did you learn during your experience as Galileo director?
Oosterlinck: One of the key things I learned is that signed agreements will only work if there is trust and respect. The other important thing I learned is the importance of human relations. In January 2009, we faced a serious problem for the financing of the In-orbit Validation (IOV) phase. I succeeded in finding a solution thanks to the confidence I had in some individuals within the EC (European Commission) that followed through on their promises. If these people had not worked hard and put pressure on their management, the IOV phase would have cost at least 80 million euros ($108.4 million) more. My advice to my successor went in that direction — success in this program is only possible when the EC and ESA work hand in hand.
Satellite News: What were the difficulties in financing Galileo’s IOV?
Oosterlinck: The IOV phase was a joint ESA and EU program managed under ESA rules, but a significant change occurred in the management structure of the Galileo program at the end 2007 when the European Union (EU) decided that the Galileo program would be funded exclusively by public funds.
On the one hand, the EC would become program manager, and ESA would be responsible for the implementation of the entire Galileo project. This included, moreover, a system prime role. The EC had no experience in program management, and ESA never played fully the role of system prime. In addition, since the FOC (full operational capability) would be financed exclusively by the EC, that part of the Galileo program had to follow the rules of the EC, in particular with respect to procurement and finance. This was not only new for ESA but also for the EC.
The major challenge was to set-up the teams in both organizations and to establish mutual trust and respect. It was also essential to start immediately the adaptation of the procurement process to the needs of the Galileo FOC phase. This was not easy in the beginning.
Satellite News: What would you consider your most significant achievement on the Galileo program?
Oosterlinck: The signature of major procurement contracts in January 2010, including the contract with OHB for the first satellite batch, the system support contract and the launcher contract, is, for me one of the major tangible accomplishments. The fact that this happened is also illustrative, that, on management level, most of the program’s major problems have been solved.
Satellite News: How would you assess the current health of the program?
Oosterlinck: I firmly believe that the program is in better shape than before. The fact that the source for financing the program is now clarified and that major contracts are signed covering a first constellation of some 18 satellites in orbit shows that Galileo has become a reality.
The program also is going well from an ESA perspective. The two satellites in orbit — Giove-A and Giove-B — are working very well. Giove-A has been in orbit almost five years. The behavior of the critical technologies onboard these two satellites have been very good. There are always some small problems, but we are satisfied. Secondly, the signal generators are working very well. We can now transmit all the different signals, which is excellent for validating the system. There are instruments on both satellites to characterize the environment in which the satellites are orbiting. This is very important in terms of radiation. It is valuable to know about the protection against radiation in the future.
Satellite News: How do you respond to the criticism Galileo faces over its costs?
Oosterlinck: The main problem with costs is accurately communicating what they are. For example, late last year, I attended an event to field a number of questions from the press. A number of questions were related to costs, and one of them was about the costs of the radio station. I said the costs were 4 million euros ($5.4 million) and another one of my colleagues said 7 million euros ($9.5 million) and another said 10 million euros ($13.5 million).
I understood the cost of investment when I cut the ribbon for the station. I only understood that the site is prepared and equipped with one small VSAT antenna. My second colleague understood the question to mean what would be the cost once the antennas for IOV would be deployed. The third colleague gave the costs on the premise of all the antennas being installed for FOC, which is 10 million euros. You ask the question to three different people and you get three different answers. All three are correct, but we all understood the question differently.
Satellite News: Why has Galileo become more expensive?
Oosterlinck: When the press talks about the overhead costs, they tend to mix several aspects together. It is clear there are additional costs. People tend to forget that the original Galileo budget of 3.4 billion euros ($4.6 billion) also included EGNOS, which is now operational. Secondly, it is important to realize that, with Galileo, ESA will launch four IOV satellites belonging to the final constellation. We also will need an operator once they are launched in 2012. After that, the mission operations and validation process begins, so you not only have to calculate the cost of development but the costs of operations in the long-term as well.
You can go even further than that, too. If everything goes as planned, we will have 18 satellites — four IOV and 14 ordered by OHB — in orbit around 2014, which means nine launches and a lot of operational costs. The cost of launchers has increased by roughly 20 percent over recent years. However, the latest review shows we are on track for the first double launch in summer 2011. Soyuz from Kourou is also on track with the possibility of a first launch in April 2011, meaning that the launchers should be ready for the IOV satellites. The next launch of the IOV satellites will then take place in the beginning of 2012.
Satellite News: Do you think critics will eventually deem the Galileo service worthy of the price?
Oosterlinck: This Galileo positioning system is very good, and its systems can be used for many critical applications. There a number of applications today based on GPS, and the GPS system is not always reliable today, but the next generation of the system will be better. I think it would be wrong to have all those applications worldwide relying on one system.
The expansion of the whole market, in terms of direct and indirect applications, has created an enormous market. Galileo has several signals that increase its reliability and availability essential for critical applications such as maritime and air traffic control. For example, the German FT has stated that $124 billion (92 billion euros) in GPS receivers were sold in 2008. The fact that the amount was given in dollars could give the impression that these receivers were all built in the United States. The reality is that European companies built different parts of these receivers. This means that the opportunities for European firms already exist today.