Page last updated at 02:22 GMT, Friday, 11 December 2009

Decision delayed on Meteosat team

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

MTG spacecraft (Eumetsat)
Staring at the Earth: The MTGs will gather far more detail, faster

The choice of an industrial team to build the next generation of weather satellites - or Meteosats - for Europe has been delayed by three months.

The Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) programme will cost about 3.4bn euros in total, and should guarantee space-borne weather data until at least 2040.

Thales Alenia Space of France and EADS Astrium of Germany are in competition to lead the satellites' development.

The European Space Agency said it still needed more information from the teams.

"Both are good but both have weaknesses, and we want to give both constructors the opportunity to improve," explained Volker Liebig, the agency's director of Earth observation.

"We will ask them to deliver by the end of January their new reports, in time for our Industrial Policy Committee in March," he told BBC News.

The selection of the winning team had been expected this week.

The Paris-based organisation will oversee the research and development phase of the MTG project.

This will include two prototype Meteosats: an imaging spacecraft and a sounding spacecraft (one which can return information about different layers in the atmosphere).

Another pan-European agency, Eumetsat, will operate these platforms once they are launched and pay for their follow-ups. It is envisaged that the MTG programme will comprise six satellites in all, launched at intervals of a few years.

The Meteosat series stretches back to 1977. Currently, two platforms - Meteosat-8 and Meteosat-9 - provide the space data on which daily weather forecasts for Europe depend.

Esa member-states committed just under a billion euros to the MTG programme at a ministerial meeting last year. The details of the Eumetsat contribution, which will amount to more than 2.4bn euros, are expected to be finalised by its member states in mid-2010.

Eumetsat is holding a special council meeting in March to discuss MTG, and the intention is to nominate the industrial team for the space segment before that gathering.

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