EU gives Galileo the green light


The Galileo In-Orbit-Validation Element (GIOVE) mission comprises two experimental satellites, the first of which – GIOVE-A – was launched in December 2005.

GIOVE tests critical new technologies (such as the on-board atomic clocks, signal generator and user receivers) and validates the new features of the Galileo signal design, characterises the radiation environment of the Medium Earth Orbits (MEOs) planned for the Galileo satellites and secures access to the Galileo frequencies allocated by the International Telecommunications Union.

In May 2007, GIOVE-A successfully transmitted its first navigation message, containing the information needed by user receivers to calculate their position. Prior to reaching this milestone, the satellite had been broadcasting only the data needed for measuring the receiver-to-satellite distance.

If all goes according to plan with GIOVE-B, the first four of the thirty Galileo satellites will be launched to validate the functioning of space and related ground infrastructure, in the first quarter of 2010.

Originally planned to be operational in 2011, Galileo's progress has been hamstrung by bickering between EU governments and consortium members over who was going to do what, from where, and who was going to pay for it.

Toulouse, London, Barcelona, Munich and Rome all wanted to host the Galileo headquarters. The argument was settled with the decision to split Galileo's HQ between France and the UK.

Last year, the European Commission got thoroughly fed up with the consortium members – EADS, Thales, Inmarsat, Alcatel-Lucent, Finmeccanica, AENA, Hispasat, and TeleOp – who were too busy squabbling to actually come up with a plan to get the system up and running.

Originally estimated at around €4 billion, the setting up of the system was already €400 million over-budget by May 2006.

The European Parliament has now given its backing to Galileo's deployment phase, paving the way for the Europe's satellite radio navigation system to be operational by 2013 – two years behind schedule.

Galileo will be the first common European infrastructure. Galileo and the European Geostationary Satellite Navigation Service (EGNOS) are European programs, belonging to no particular Member State or company.

Galileo infrastructure contracts, which will be split into six main packages (system engineering support, ground mission infrastructure completion, ground control infrastructure completion, satellites, launchers and operations) and additional work packages, will be put out to competitive tender in a single procedure. No one company or group may bid for more than two of the six main work packages.

In order to prevent any possible abuse of dominance or long-term dependency on single suppliers, dual sourcing will be applied i.e. using two different suppliers for one product. Furthermore, at least 40% of the total value of the activities must be subcontracted to companies that do not belong to the prime contractor of any of the main work packages.

Galileo's deployment phase, which runs until 2013, will be entirely funded by the EU, which, by investing €3.4 billion, will become "the owner of all tangible and intangible assets created or developed under the programs". Member States, third countries or international organisations may provide additional funding.

In 2010, the Commission should table a proposal on the public funds and commitments needed for the exploitation phase over the next financial programming period, starting in 2014. This proposal would also have to include a revenue-sharing mechanism and objectives for a pricing policy to guarantee that consumers receive high-quality services at fair prices.

A new inter-institutional framework will be set up: the Galileo Inter-institutional Panel (GIP) will be composed of three representatives each of the Council and the Parliament, and one representative of the Commission. The GIP will follow closely the implementation of the GNSS programmes, the international agreements with third countries, and the preparation of the satellite navigation markets.

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