Galileo, the EU's Satellite Positioning Service, set for take-off in 2014 - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Galileo, the EU's Satellite Positioning Service, set for take-off in 2014

Thursday, 7 January 2010
The European Union’s new, albeit long-delayed, adventure into space in the form of its navigation system Galileo will finally begin operating in 2014, with the EU confident its services will replace those currently provided to citizens by the American GPS system.

The project received an important boost this morning with the award of several key contracts to European companies worth a combined value of over €1 billion that will enable the roll-out of Galileo's services from 2014, revealed the current EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani.

"With this and the upcoming awards for the remaining procurement packages, we are concluding a critical phase of the Galileo programme," he explained. "We can now focus on the actual roll-out and demonstrate to European citizens that Europe's own satellite navigation system is firmly underway."

The European Commission has repeatedly stated their hope that the project will rival the US Global Positioning System (GPS) which is widely used in a wide range of navigational devices such as those used by drivers to find street directions.

But while the service provided by GPS is good, its accuracy and availability can on occasions leave a lot to be desired and it can be very difficult to get a precise fix (especially under trees) and the accuracy can drift out to 10m or more.

Galileo should offer European users greater accuracy - down to a metre and less, greater penetration in urban centres, inside buildings, and under trees, as well as faster connection times.

Politically it is also an important statement as it will assert Europe's independence and cut its reliance on other international systems for global positioning services.

Yet, the EU has been keen to stress Galileo's role in complementing rather than competing with existing satellite navigation systems. Users will benefit from the agreement between Europe and the US to make their sat-nav systems compatible and "interoperable" so that users will be able to get their location using satellites from either Galileo or the existing GPS.

"We want Galileo to be an international system," said Mr Tajani, stressing its compatibility with the US's GPS and the ongoing discussions with other countries including Russia and China.

The French-Italian company ThalesAleniaSpace was awarded the contract valued at €85 million to provide the system support services and the industrial services needed to support the European Space Agency for the integration and the validation of the Galileo system.

OHB System AG of Germany was awarded the €566m contract to produce the first 14 operational satellites, and subsequent satellite orders will go either to OHB or to pan-Euro space goliath EADS-Astrium, the owner of British satellite firm SSTL, under a "double-sourcing" agreement that has already been signed.

Finally, the contract worth €397m was awarded to Arianespace for launching of the first ten satellites, which will happen in pairs aboard Soyuz rockets that are to be provided by Russia.

The first launch is scheduled to take place in October 2012 and will be followed by four to five launches per year until all 32 envisioned satellites are in orbit around the Earth.

The remaining three procurement contracts, for the ground mission infrastructure, the ground control infrastructure and the operations should be awarded by mid-2010.

The project of course gets its name from Galileo Galilei, dubbed the "father of modern observational astronomy", who born in Italy naturally making him European...

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