ESA Director-General Jan Woerner. Credit: ESA video

BERLIN — The European Space Agency’s ruling council, meeting in extraordinary session here April 26, withdrew a measure to advance work on the Galileo satellite navigation system in the face of a threatened British veto, European government officials said.

On the more complicated subject of the status and funding of the future Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets, ESA governments — principally Germany, Italy, France and ESA — agreed to shift production of Ariane 6 booster casings from Germany to Italy. In exchange, Italian work on a liquid-oxygen turbo pump to be used for future launchers will move to Germany.

German and Italian space agency officials had said —  the exchange should be of equivalent value. But the equilibrium within Germany is not certain. Italy’s Avio SpA will be getting the booster-casing work from Germany’s MT Aerospace, a 70%-owned subsidiary of OHB SE of Bremen, Germany.

But it’s not MT Aerospace or OHB that will get Avio’s turbopump work, it’s ArianeGroup of Ottobrunn, Germany.

ESA governments appeared to make progress on, but did not yet finance, a series of measures related to Ariane 6 development and the transition phase, between 2020 and 2023, when operations of the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket will wind down and Ariane 6 will debut.

Here is what ESA is asking for:

240 million euros ($297 million) to cover future Ariane 6-related risks and to stimulate the Ariane 6 contracting team to accelerate the Ariane 6 rocket’s commercial introduction and to tweak its performance after 2020-2021.

118 million euros, in 2014 economic conditions (121 million euros now), to make up for underfunded portion of Ariane 6’s development as agreed by ESA gaovernments in 2014.

— About 200 million euros to cover the costs associated with winding down Ariane 5 production while Ariane 6 ramps up. Currently one Ariane 6 is planned for 2020, five in 2021 and eight in 2022.

The Galileo measure, a non-financial amendment to the relations between ESA and the European Commission, was designed to prepare the way for a future RFP for the next series of Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

This group of spacecraft will act as a bridge between the current-generation Galileo system, to be fully operational in 2020, and the second-generation constellation still in the early design phase.

The British government in recent weeks has been protesting that post-Brexit, British industry will be barred from work on certain Galileo network elements related to security. European Commission officials have acknowledged as much, saying Britain, once out of the European Union in 2019, will be on the same footing as the United States and Norway — two governments that have formally sought access to Galileo’s quasi-military PRS signal.

Britain and the commission must sign a security agreement before Britain gets access to PRS. As for British industry, they will be eligible for work on Galileo, but not for work packages that touch on security-related elements.

ESA had planned to introduce the Galileo measure at the April 26 council but then took it off the table when it became clear that Britain would not vote for it. ESA Director-General Jan Woerner, in an April 26 briefing at the ILA 2018 aerospace show before the council meeting, said measures like this must pass by a unanimous vote.

One government official said ESA was faced with a choice: Insist on presenting the resolution for a vote, and then be barred from re-introducing it for another six months following British rejection; or withdraw it and hope the British position changes in the next few months.

“Britain wanted to show it could hold ESA hostage to its dispute with the EU Commission,” a government official said.

UK Space Agency statement on Galileo position

The UK Space Agency, which is Britain’s representative to ESA, issued the following statement:

“We have previously voiced concerns, as have other member states, that issuing these contracts earlier than necessary would add financial and technical risks to the program.

Britain demonstrated on April 26 its willingness to block, where it can, progress on Galileo on behalf of its effort to retain full Galileo involvement despite Brexit. Credit: European Commission

The Batch 4 [Galileo] contracts would establish a completely new design for Galileo satellites, requiring changes to the ground infrastructure and cryptography.

“This is the last set of contracts paid for from the current Multi Annual Financial Framework (MFF), which the UK has agreed to pay into. Any contracts for the next generation of Galileo were originally supposed to be tendered in 2020.

“Business Secretary Greg Clark has called for a three-month procurement freeze and for a clear commitment from the Commission that UK industry continues to be eligible to apply for all Galileo contracts on a fair and open basis. This would give us all the opportunity to discuss UK involvement in Galileo during the implementation period, and through our future security and economic partnerships, which can only benefit the effectiveness of the program.”

Philippe Willekens, head of ESA’s Communications Department, on April 27 said:

“No decision in council to report. Ariane 6 is progressing, with a draft declaration for the [Launcher Program Board] in mid-May. Galileo [Delegation Addition] is postponed for internal administration process with some member states. No further info.”

The issues are not as clear as they might be because ESA bars access to all background documents and decisions debated at its council meetings. Council meetings are not public and are not webcast, and their minutes are not made public.

Woerner and ESA Space Transportation Systems Director Daniel Neuenschwander addressed some of the Ariane 6 and Galileo issues at their briefing with journalists early on April 26.

Here are excerpts of their remarks, first on Galileo, then on Ariane 6.

Woerner: On Galileo, there is a discussion for which we need a unanimous decision. Under these special circumstances with Brexit, to get a unanimous decision about the Galileo program is not that simple. We are ready to decide, but I am quite sure that we will use the time for discussion purposes only.

What is the specific subject on the table for Galileo?

Woerner:  It is the agreement between the European Union and ESA on the deployment phase of the European satellite radio navigation program, Galileo. It’s an amendment, a further delegation agreement for the contract. This type of delegation agreement needs unanimity.

This is an additional part, called procurement of the transition satellites. Then money would flow — but not with the declaration that we are discussing today. As this is a general agreement with the EU, we always need unanimity.

For Ariane 6, the booster casing will be consolidated in Italy, and Germany gets a liquid-oxygen turbo pump as previously agreed to?

Woerner: Yes, and we are using the technology development that done in Augsburg [at MT Aerospace] for further developments of other parts of the launcher.

Neuenschwander: To made it simple: We have solid propulsion in Italy and the oxygen pump in Germany, which consolidates liquid propulsion in Germany. In addition, adding value to the technology development on the booster casing, we are using it for future composite activities for the upper stage of the future.

If the trade is of equivalent values, why do you need more money?

Neuenschwander: First, in the Luxembourg ministerial in 2014 [where Ariane 6 development was approved], the development program for Ariane 6 was undersubscribed. What we need now are the complementary development subscriptions to fulfill the full program.

Contractually speaking, we blocked some activities in the contracts with industry until we had the full subscription. That’s point number one today concerning money.

What is the amount of the under-subscription for Ariane 6 in 2014?

Neuenschwander: 118 million euros in 2014 economic conditions for the Ariane 6 element. Plus there was 29 million euros on the P120 [Ariane 6 strap-on booster] element. But with the [consolidation of the planned two booster lines into one], we took out 20 million owing to the change of the industrial setup. So that leaves 9 million euros.

Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation. Credit: ESA video

Then comes an additional element, which is very important. We have progressed through different Ariane 6 program reviews: the Program Implementation Review in 2016, and an Exploitation Key Point last year.

Now, through this resolution, we start the transition and exploitation activities of Ariane 6. This is very important. For this, we will need a number of decisions — hopefully by the end of June.

It’s starting the production for the transition from arcane 5 to Ariane 6, from the maiden flight to [full operating capability] — currently planned from 2020 to 2023.

Are you asking for any fresh money from the delegations for Ariane 6?

Woerner: For the under subscriptions we need fresh money. You might not call it fresh money but it is fresh money. It has to be paid.

The second point [Ariane 5-Ariane 6 transition] was already explained [to ESA member states] so it is not a surprise. If you say fresh money is money suddenly now asked for, then I would say no, it’s not fresh money. If it is money that is above what we got in [2014], then I would say yes.

So it is within the envelope of what was agreed to in 2014?

Neuenschwander: For Ariane 6 development, we are applying exactly the ESA convention and asking for a potential risk provision, for a marginal amount with regards to the total envelope.

For the transition and exploitation activities, this is a new program, with fresh money, but it was known to delegations since 2014. We knew that this transition will come. It is obvious: When you start development of a new launcher, you need to plan for a transition.

But the transition was not financed in 2014?

Neuenschwander: The amount of the public-sector contribution to the transition was identified. Now we are implementing it.

The Ariane 6 industrial team wants commitments from European governments for five satellites a year for Ariane 6 between 2021 and 2023, and two Vega-C satellites, by June 30. Is that feasible?

Neuenschwander: Today ESA and Arianespace frame contract for launchers we have in operation and also Ariane 6 and Vega C. This will be the framework and the way we will procure future individual launches — for example, in the scientific program or in Earth observation.

From 2020 to 2023 we are in the transition program, not in stabilized exploitation. We agreed to a number of institutional launches in that period. Among the potential customers is the European Commission, the French government, the German government, and of course ESA. We will make our best efforts to have these launches that we agreed on up to 2023 — hopefully by mid-2018. We are just signing the framework on the ESA side and we are in intensive talks with the three other institutional customers.

Isn’t Italy involved?

Neuenschwander: I was speaking only for Ariane 6. The same applies for Vega-C. The Italian government will be a launching customer on Vega-C for launch services in that period.