December 3, 2009

Extended Deadline For Observation Satellite Funding

European nations were granted only a few more weeks to find funding for a key Earth observation satellite, BBC News reported.

In order to maintain a remarkable 18-year record of ocean height, the Jason-3 spacecraft must be ordered soon, and Eumetsat, which looks after Europe's weather satellites, needs at least $87 million from its member states to initiate the program.

Jason-3 would launch in 2013, allowing time to crosscheck its data in orbit with the current Jason-2 mission.

However, scientists can only minimize calibration errors between the two satellites' datasets by flying the pair in tandem for a period of months.

Meanwhile, the deadline for interested member states to subscribe to Jason-3 was extended by the Eumetsat Council through the end of the year into January.

First established in 1992, the altimetry project provides the global reference data for satellite-measured ocean topography. But the Jason series and its predecessor, the Topex/Poseiden spacecraft, are the programs that have traced the recent 3mm per year rise in sea levels.

Oceanographers, weather forecasters and climatologists have called the surface height information invaluable.

A number of member states needed more time to organize their financing, according to this week's Eumetsat Council Meeting.

With the U.S. and France making the biggest individual contributions, the total cost of the Jason-3 program is estimated to be around $380 million. However, the EU and the European Space Agency also announced their willingness to contribute to the flagship project.

Still, Eumetsat members are being asked to find almost $100 million with a requirement that binding commitments cover at least 90 percent of that figure to trigger development work.

As of now, 13 out of 19 potential participating states have subscribed to the program and among the six outstanding nations are Eumetsat's two biggest members - Germany and the UK. Experts say their participation could be critical to the outcome of the subscription process.

"We recognize the potential value offered by the Jason-3 satellite program and the need to carefully consider the relative merits of our national investments," said Bruce Truscott at the UK Met Office, which leads the UK's involvement in Eumetsat.

He told BBC News that the UK funding contribution to Jason-3 is therefore being actively addressed in government, with a view to reaching a conclusion before the declaration due date at the end of this month.


Image Caption: Jason-2 Satellite.


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