February 13, 2014
A team of French aerospace manufacturers may have to renegotiate details of an €800 million ($1.08 billion) contract awarded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last year to build and launch a pair of high-resolution Earth observation satellites, after the companies failed to meet a Jan. 29 deadline for obtaining U.S. export licenses for some components that will be used to build them.
Jean-Loic Galle, president and CEO of Thales Alenia Space, and Francois Auque, head of space systems at Airbus Defense and Space, says U.S. approval for the necessary export licenses did not come until Feb. 12, on the sidelines of French President Francois Hollande’s state visit to the U.S.
Consent from the U.S. comes almost nine months after the UAE awarded Airbus and Thales a contract to build and launch its twin-satellite Falcon Eye system. The award followed a lengthy procurement process lasting more than a decade, which included offers from a handful of American companies allowed to participate in the UAE tender with U.S. State Department blessing. Among these were bids from Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and Raytheon.
Lashing out at his American competitors, Galle said the fact that approval for the U.S. parts had to be addressed during a Franco-American summit is an indication that sore losers were interfering in the deal.
“This is not a question of national security, this is a commercial war,” Galle said during a European space industry conference here Feb. 13. “U.S lobbying does its utmost to prevent the only real competitor it has in this business, which is Europe, to export products to places the U.S. has decided it does not want to export.”
Galle did not disclose the nature of the U.S. components involved, but argued that they are not particularly sensitive. He said construction of the satellites has not yet begun because the contract requires U.S. export licenses for the components in question to be obtained before work on the hardware can begin.
Based on the same Airbus Defense and Space platform used to build France’s twin Pleiades Earth observation satellites, the French team’s Falcon Eye system will be equipped with a Thales Alenia Space optical imaging payload that, like Pleiades, will be capable of detecting objects measuring 70 cm in diameter. The data can then be re-sampled to produce images with a ground sample distance of just 50 cm.
Although Galle and Auque said they do not expect to renegotiate the entire Falcon Eye contract or alter its price as a result of missing the UAE’s Jan. 29 export license deadline, the French team may have to amend certain details of the agreement before spacecraft construction can begin.
The satellites are slated to launch separately in late 2017 and early 2018, atop European Vega rockets.