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ESA may cancel Sentinel satellite launch

Paris, France: Jean-Jacques Dordain Director-General of European Space Agency (ESA) threatened to cancel the planned 2013 launching of a series of earth observation satellites (Sentinel satellites) co-financed with the European Commission (EC) unless the commission commits to financing their operation beyond 2014.
At a press conference at ESA headquarters, Dordain said the agency has retained legal ownership of the Sentinel 1A, Sentinel 2A and Sentinel 3A satellites until they are in their operating orbits. As the sole owner, he added, the ESA has no need to seek EC’s approval to leave the spacecraft on the ground.
The Sentinel satellites are part of Europe’s multibillion-dollar Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme, on which ESA and the EC have together spent approximately EUR 2.3 billion (USD 3 billion).
ESA was charged with designing and launching the satellites, with the commission to take over the programme and finance its operations and future development. The commission estimated that it will cost approximately EUR 5.8 billion to maintain and operate GMES between 2014 and 2020.
That plan came unhinged in mid-2011 when the commission decided to remove GMES from the multiyear budget it is preparing for 2014 to 2020. In November, the commission proposed that the 27 European Union (EU) nations agree among themselves to fund GMES, with contributions based on each nation’s gross domestic product.
ESA and individual EU governments, as well as prospective GMES users, have been sharply critical of this scenario. They say that by making GMES an intergovernmental programme requiring a fresh set of agreements among nations, the programme’s future has been cast into doubt. ESA’s 19 member governments and the European Council, representing the EU’s 27 government members, reiterated these concerns in December 6, 2011, resolution.
GMES, the resolution says, is “under the responsibility and management of the European Commission.” The resolution also acknowledges that, unlike Europe’s Galileo navigation satellite system, no one as yet has assumed formal ownership of GMES. Galileo is owned by the EU.
The resolution calls for ESA and the European Commission to “complete an assessment” of GMES ownership as soon as possible, and “urges the European Commission to take the necessary and timely actions to secure the continuity of the programme and reassure GMES users and stakeholders of its commitment to the GMES programme.”
Earlier, ESA contracted with the Arianespace launch consortium for a Soyuz launch for the first Sentinel satellite in 2013 and has the necessary funds to commit to this launch and to the launch of the other two “A” models of the Sentinel spacecraft, also planned for 2013. Given that the EC’s preparations for its 2014 to 2020 budget are likely to stretch into 2013, the commission is unlikely to be able to commit to GMES financing in 2012. Dordain stressed that he is not asking for a financial commitment in 2012, but for some kind of “guarantee that there will be someone to finance operations.”
Source: earsc.org