Companies to help Luxembourg run costly satellite
Luxembourg has sought the help of a consortium of international companies to run two satellite operation centres that are part of the controversial LUXEOSysproject, which former Economy Minister Etienne Schneider had previously said the army would manage single-handedly.
The planned military satellite came under unwanted scrutiny last year when the government blamed Schneider for underestimating the cost of the project, seeking to double the budget of the project to €350. Ultimately, the government's estimate of the price tag rested at €309 million.
As part of the ambitious project, Schneider planned to set up both a mission operating centre for the satellite, as well as a centre to manage the data collected from the satellite. But the government has now selected a group of companies to help run the centre alongside the army after discovering the Grand Duchy’s forces did not have the capacity to do so alone.
“The former minister thought it was a good idea in 2018 but [the government] found it was not possible because [the army] did not have the infrastructure,” Defence Ministry spokesperson Jo Clees told the Luxembourg Times.
The project is now being handled by Defence Minister François Bausch, who presented its progress to parliamentarians on Monday.
The government also lowered the budget for the LUXSEOSys satellite by €35 million to €274 million. This is because the government had overestimated the cost of satellite operation and data processing centres, budget committee chairwoman Diane Adehm of the centre-right CSV opposition party told the Luxembourg Times on Monday, after the meeting with Bausch.
The names of the companies - which come from countries including Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany - have not been published as they are still in negotiations over the contract, Clees said.
The government is hoping to house the two centres in Kirchberg, with a building set up specifically for government operations, Adehm – who is happy that private companies are helping to run the centres - said.
Lawmakers late last year unanimously approved asking the Luxembourg Court of Auditors for a report on the financial management of the LUXEOSys project, but opposition demands for a formal parliamentary inquiry were rejected. The court has not yet finished its report.
"The audit of the Court on the LUXEOSys project is currently ongoing,” Isabelle Nicolay Secretary General at the court said in an email to the Luxembourg Times. “Hence, we cannot at this time give a precise date for its publication.”
Parliamentarians are also looking for any signs of possible favouritism in the granting of the contract for the construction of the satellite to Italy's OHB-I, a daughter of German tech giant OHB. Hitec, a Luxembourg company working on the construction of the antenna is the target of a criminal investigation into abuse of company assets involving at least five people, according to a report in the Lëtzebuerger Land weekly newspaper last year.