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ESA fights to keep Galileo alive

By | January 17, 2001

      The now-traditional New Year annual press conference of the European Space Agency (ESA) was held in Paris on January 15.

      Director-general Antonio Rodota did his best to explain away the failure of the December 21 meeting of the European Union Transport Council to reach a decision on how to continue with the Galileo programme for a civil satellite navigation system. In particular, it had proved impossible to secure agreement on the modalities for a public/privately- funded implementation scheme.

      It would seem that, in the absence of any formal communiqué from the EC, an informal verbal communication received on December 23 from the joint ESA/EC office in Brussels to the effect that the future of the Galileo programme was adversely affected by expressions of support for the US GPS system was in fact a “misinterpretation”.

      None the less, there appeared to be a feeling that the programme management (essentially Galileo Industries SA, comprising Alcatel Space, Astrium and Alenia) had not done all its homework adequately, particularly on cost-benefit aspects. Consequently, the matter was postponed until the next Transport Council meeting, now scheduled for April (or maybe May). This time it will be held under Swedish presidency instead of French.

      In particular, Rodota stressed that a revised programme declaration would be finalised on January 30 by the Navigation Programme Board (EC/ESA). This would bind member states to contribute to the E497 million second sub-envelope for programme activities to be completed by the end of 2001. This should allow funding to be unblocked and invitations to tender started.

      Also, on December 15, funds were voted by Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland to provide for the development of the Vega small launcher (for payloads up to 1,500kg). In parallel, Belgium, France, Italy, and the Netherlands have agreed to finance the P80 solid stage, derived from the Ariane 5 solid booster. These two projects could coalesce.

      It was announced that Jean-Jacques Dordain, currently ESA’s director of strategy, would assume later this year the post of director of launchers, replacing Fredeik Engstrom, who is retiring. Nobody has yet been chosen to take over the strategy post.

      ESA launches for 2001 include the technology demonstrator satellite Artemis, for which the Japanese can no longer guarantee an H-2A launch this year. It will now fly as a part- payload on an Ariane 5 in June. The E80 million cost will be part-paid by contributions from potential beneficiaries, including specialised agencies; Eutelsat has been mentioned but nor confirmed. Also, in July, Envisat, ESA’s largest-ever Earth observation satellite, will finally be launched as an Ariane 5 whole payload.

      ESA’s budget for 2001 goes up to E2.85 billion, from E2.71 billion last year. It should be noted that “Approved Programmes” have increased by nearly E500 million to E3.05 billion, but that third-party financing and “budget monitoring” funding has been injected to minimise the effect on the bottom line.

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