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ESA struggles with €80 million data relay project shortfall

An €80 million ($105 million) funding shortfall is threatening to reduce the capability of the European Space Agency's planned European Data Relay Satellite System (EDRS), a constellation of three geostationary satellites designed to relay data during French Guiana rocket launches.

Other craft to be supported by EDRSS include those for Automated Transfer Vehicle missions and for the Kopernikus Global Monitoring for Environment and Security's spacecraft, called Sentinels.

The agency had requested €230 million for EDRS, but its member states decided at their November meeting to only give €150 million. The EDRS phase A industrial study is under way and three operators are under consideration for a mid-year selection.

"The Sentinels are being designed with antennas to communicate with EDRS," ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain told Flight International. This gives an urgency to the financial gap as ESA wants an EDRS capability in place in 2012 when the first Sentinel is launched in the same year.

Dordain added that work to understand how to "descope" the EDRSS has started in case the funding can not be found. One option is for the selected operator to obtain the €80 million from financial markets.

For spacecraft in a polar orbit there could be an hour to wait before they can communicate with an ESA ground station. Using EDRS the delay would be minutes, which is helpful in an emergency, Dordain said.

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