Despite launch contract signings and production award announcements declared at the Paris air show the Galileo satellite navigation system is still a programme bedevilled by disputes and delays whose full deployment is likely to be more expensive and come years later than its stakeholders have been led to expect.
While Arianespace celebrated in Paris its contract signing for launching the Galileo satellites, questions were being asked about the role of its EADS Astrium Ariane 5 rocket - with suggestions that 13 Samara Space Centre Soyuz 2-1b boosters would also be needed, an eventuality that could extend the period needed to launch the entire constellation.
EADS Astrium is also now asking the European Space Agency why OHB - its smaller competitor to supply the constellation's spacecraft - was given a €10 million ($13.8 million) contract for long lead items during the air show week while it got just €7 million.
To secure the constellation launch schedule, expected to start in late 2012, two contracts were placed with the space segment competitors OHB and Astrium for satellite platforms' and payloads' long lead items. The cost expected for the 26 satellites to be ordered is predicted to be €840 million.
But the precautionary payment has bewildered Astrium and its satellites division chief executive Evert Dudok is now asking for an answer from ESA. After a procurement process that has seen two consortia created and then merged and then abandoned European industry is frustrated at the lack of progress for a project that could have been good for their profit and loss accounts. Dudok expresses a common industry view when he told reporters at the company's air show briefing: "Galileo has been taken in-house by the European Union and now we have a delay of a year. It is a pitiful situation."
When the European Commission rolled out its plan to procure Galileo last year contract awards were expected from the first quarter of this year, a delay of months over a previous target. Now contract awards are to begin from the third quarter of this year. Italian Space Agency commissioner Enrico Saggese told Flightglobal before the Paris air show that "the content [of the Galileo contracts] is changing. We are not happy about this."
Dudok was also concerned at the prospect of a dual procurement for the 26, a possibility heightened by the surprise twin long lead item awards. He warns that a split of the first 16 satellites - with eight for each contractor and then a downselect between the two companies for the last 12 - could add up to a 40% price hike for the satellites, as volume savings would be lost on the initial batch of 16.
Paradoxically, if Astrium did lose the contract for the Galileo satellites its subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology is a partner with OHB and so Astrium at its group level would still benefit. But, says Dudok: "The payload is 40%. Why do I want 40% when I can get 100%?"
That first flight is now likely to be early in 2010, but the Soyuz rockets that can place Galileo in the correct orbit are the 2-1b variant, and the type's maiden flight from French Guiana will not be until the end of 2010, to orbit two of the four in-orbit validation (IOV) satellites being built by Astrium.
About 18 months later the first launches of the actual operational constellation satellites are set to begin, a date ESA and the EC say they are confident industry can meet. The constellation may be launched by 13 Soyuz rockets because problems with the Ariane 5 dispenser means it could only lift a maximum of four spacecraft per launch when previously figures of eight or six satellites were given.
And, the previous launch period of a year - using a combination of Ariane and Soyuz - now looks unlikely with production capacity constraints at Soyuz manufacturer Samara Space Center and competition from other Arianespace customers, whose push for launches as soon as possible will limit the number of Galileo missions.
In 2007 EADS told the EC that the original €3.4 billion price tag was unrealistic. The size of the final bill may still be unknown when the 101st Paris air show begins.