GMES Segment One will kick off key year for European space

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The European Space Agency expects to achieve significant progress with its most important programmes in 2008, says director general Jean-Jacques Dordain, beginning with a key milestone for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme.

GMES is a European Union-led initiative to combine ground- and space-based observation for monitoring for the environment and security needs. On 16 January ESA finalised its agreement with the European Commission for GMES Segment One, which covers development of the first of three Sentinel Earth observation spacecraft. Speaking at the ESA's annual press conference on 14 January in Paris, Dordain said the agreement should be approved by the ESA Council of member states at its 15 February meeting.

ESA has already signed the contract for Sentinel-1 with prime contractor Thales Alenia Space and, once the Segment One agreement is approved, it can sign contracts for Sentinel-2 and -3. Sentinel-1 will be launched in 2011, with -2 and -3 following in 2012.

The June ESA Council meeting, meanwhile, should approve an agreement with the EC that makes the space agency prime contractor for the delayed Galileo satellite navigation system. This will enable ESA to sign contracts with industry by year-end for a constellation of satellites to be operational by 2013.

"We have meetings virtually every day with the EC to implement the decisions taken last year [about Galileo]," says Dordain.

Following a tender process started in 2007, Dordain expects a deal to be signed by March with Spanish satellite operator Hispasat to operate ESA's Small Geostationary Satellite programme spacecraft. This has a payload power requirement of 3kW, a total mass of up to 3,000kg (6,600lb) and a 15-year lifespan. Dordain sees the Small Geostationary Satellite as a model for public-private partnerships to be repeated in future.