Don’t Forget to Pat the Lion

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, User:Mattos

You walk past the dual-lion statue (pictured at right) as you enter a passage way from Odeonplatz to der Residenz, site of the just-concluded 8th Munich Satellite Navigation Summit.

There are actually four of these placed along a street paralleling the massive museum complex, and long-time Munich residents reach up to pat or rub the nose of the small leonine visage at the bottom of the shield — a gesture designed to bring good luck.

You walk past the dual-lion statue (pictured at right) as you enter a passage way from Odeonplatz to der Residenz, site of the just-concluded 8th Munich Satellite Navigation Summit.

There are actually four of these placed along a street paralleling the massive museum complex, and long-time Munich residents reach up to pat or rub the nose of the small leonine visage at the bottom of the shield — a gesture designed to bring good luck.

Mike Healy, director of navigation for EADS Astrium, must have missed his chance with the lions on his way to the conference, because the Summit had to have been a painful experience for him.

A few weeks ago, the company found itself upended by OHB-System in the competition to build the full-fledged operational satellites for the Galileo system now under development. It proved to be an exercise in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Leader of the industrial consortium building the four in-orbit validation (IOV) Galileo satellites, Astrium was the odds-on favorite to build the rest of the constellation. But inflexibility in negotiations, cost over-runs in the IOV project, and — some suggest — just plain old hubris led to a fall.

So, Mike — a truly nice and smart guy who was around the Galileo program for many years in the ultimately futile public-private partnership days — only recently returned to the GNSS field from a stint in Astrium’s earth observation business. He was called on to become either Mr. Fix-It or the clean-up man (think Mr. Wolf, in Pulp Fiction).

But Mike’s role at the Summit was highlighted (low-lighted?) by repeated apologies for his company’s having blown its chance in the first round and contrite expressions of hope that they might take part as a second-source vendor to back up OHB-System.

On Wednesday, the Summit Space Night gala at Munich’s elegant Lenbach Restaurant, was sponsored by EADS, which had committed to the event long before the envelop was opened on the satellite contract. What was probably envisioned as a victory celebration by the home team (EADS is headquartered in Munich) turned to be a more rueful event for the company.

Nonetheless, Mike played the gracious host, thanking his guests for attending the sumptuous entertainment — only to have the microphone fail repeatedly.

I tried to console him by suggesting that, from such a low point, his trajectory could only go upwards. But I expect that the only satisfactory balm will be if EADS gets back on board the Galileo train. After all, it’s not as though the program has really left the station yet.

Inside GNSS editor Glen Gibbons is blogging from the Munich Satellite Navigation Summit 2010. 

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