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It is not yet certain who will operate Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system after the Galileo Joint Undertaking body yesterday failed to announce a winner as was expected. Contenders Eurely and iNavSat will now have to continue pitching to the awarding body, the BBC reports. Galileo Joint Undertaking executive director, Rainer Grohe, said: "I have decided to invite both consortia for parallel negotiations on the concession contract."

The 30-satellite Galileo system is designed to work alongside American GPS and Russian Glonass systems. Test satellites are due for deployment soon, with the first Soyuz-rocket-borne launch scheduled to take place before the end of the year. International agreements require that there be at least one launch before June 2006 to claim the Galileo frequencies.

The Galileo contract is a big-bucks prize for the winning consortium, and will create up to 150,000 jobs across the EU. The two rival parties are made up of Alcatel, Aena, Finmeccanica and Hispasat (Eurely), and Thales, EADS Space and Inmarsat (iNavSat). The extended negotiations are not expected to delay the programme, and EU transport commissioner, Jacques Barrot, stressed: "Opening simultaneous talks on the concession agreement will also make it possible to improve the two candidates' proposals, to the greater benefit of the Galileo project." ®

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