China’s IAC attendance, Galileo’s 7-day outage, ESA’s future budget: Jean-Yves Le Gall updates all three
UPDATE Sept. 17: This story was updated to reflect the European GSA’s comment on the Galileo outage and board of inquiry.
PARIS — U.S. visas for Chinese nationals seeking to attend the October International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington, July’s seven-day outage of Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing system and the upcoming European Space Agency (ESA) conference to set multi-year budget and program priorities were among the subjects addressed by Jean-Yves Le Gall.
Le Gall is president of the French space agency, CNES, which is ESA’s largest contributor. He is also chairman of the ESA council, which is preparing the Nov. 27-28 ESA ministerial conference in Spain, and chairman of he board of the European GNSS Agency, GSA, which manages Galileo.
International Astronautical Congress aims for 10,000 — how many Chinese?
He is also president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), which organizes the annual IAC conference, which is perhaps the biggest space-sector meeting of the year.
Le Gall said he bet NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine that this year’s IAC, scheduled for Oct. 21-25, would surpass the 10,000-registrant market.
Some 4,330 abstract proposals were submitted.
But this year’s meeting comes at a time of rising tensions between the United States and China. How many Chinese papers will be presented, and how many Chinese will arrive in Washington, will depend on the U.S. State Department’s visa requirements.
“We have sent several messages to the U.S. administration” about the visa issue, Le Gall said. “At this point I have no information of any difficulties in getting visas. I cannot predict what will happen between now and the end of October, but at this point our Chinese colleagues have not had problems with visas.”
Galileo July outage: Still no word on root cause
Galileo service shut down on July 11 and took seven days to recover following an unspecified anomaly at one of its two main ground stations: http://bit.ly/2XOqcQ9
Two months later, the board of inquiry established to determine the cause of the problem and prevent its recurrence has still not rendered its conclusions, Le Gall said. He declined to discuss what happened until the inquiry is terminated.
“There are two ground stations, and while one was undergoing maintenance, the other had a problem,” he said.
The GSA said on July 19, after service was restored, that the issue was related to an anomaly in “the calculation of time and orbit predictions, which are used to compute the navigation message. The technical incident affected different elements of the ground facilities.”
Le Gall conceded that communication about the event fell short. A system managed by three organizations — the European Commission as owner, the GSA as operator and ESA as technical lead — makes it difficult to coordinate communications.
In a Sept. 17 response to Space Intel Report inquiries, the GSA said:
“Further to the Galileo technical incident in July 2019, the European Commission set up an independent Inquiry Board to investigate the incident and provide recommendations for the future. The first meeting of the Inquiry Board took place on 5 September 2019. Preliminary recommendations are expected in October, with the final recommendations by the end of 2019.”
ESA ministerial: 14-plus billion euros, if all goes well
Le Gall said ESA’s 22 member governments are still determining their level of space spending for the next three years even as they debate with each other how much ESA’s new budget should be.
One reason for optimism, Le Gall said, is that the usual push-me, pull-you between the agency’s two biggest members, France and Germany, has become less contentious. He agreed there are still points of disagreement on spending details, but said 80%-90% of the issues have been resolved between the two nations. The current proposed total spending, including payments from the European Commission, Eumetsat and others, is about 14.25 billion euros ($16.2 billion).
ESA’s current budget proposal, subject to change, is that its general operating budget, couple with its mandatory-contribution science program, be financed at 4.3 billion euros for the three years starting in 2021.
Exploration would receive nearly 2 billion euros for Europe’s role in the International Space Station and future exploration missions.
An ESA budget line relating to industrial competitiveness in satellites would receive 2.4 billion euros, mainly for Earth observation and telecommunications-related spending.
Launch services: How and how much to compensate for market decline?
That leaves the “access to space” budget line, which includes work on the future Ariane 6 heavy-lift and Vega C light launchers, and technology investment into future launcher technologies including a possibly reusable rocket first stage.
Le Gall said this budget has been tentatively set at slightly more than 2.6 billion euros. He did not provide a breakdown of the different spending categories.
One of the potentially contentious budget lines will be to compensate industry —- ArianeGroup, OHB SE, Avio SpA, Ruag and others — for the collapse of the market for large telecommunications satellites.
This market may or may not be rebounding but has been the life blood for Europe’s Arianespace launch service provider over the past 40 years.
How, and by how much, to mitigate the the impact of this market development on Europe’s launcher sector is almost certain to be an issue at the ministerial conference.