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Galileo scepticism rife even in Brussels

Only satellite builders truly enthusiastic

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Reports from Brussels suggest that European and national officials are beginning to acknowledge the lack of any firm consensus regarding the funding - or even the need - for the planned Galileo Europe sat nav constellation.

At a conference organised by French international-relations think tank IFRI, various government and corporate figures expressed their views. The conference was covered by Space News writer Peter de Selding.

Carlo des Dorides of the European GNSS Supervisory Authority told Space News that Galileo would take four and half years to complete from the time of a go order - and it seems that full approval is not realistically to be expected before 2008.

"If the green light is not given until next year, then further delays are unavoidable," des Dorides said.

Galileo test equipment is alreay in orbit, and European government funds of €1.5bn have already been spent. However, it has now been accepted that private sector cash for construction will not be forthcoming in the absence of any obvious revenue stream. This means that European governments must find at least a further €2.4bn in order to build and orbit the satellites themselves - if they genuinely wish to do so.

The UK government, for one, is sending out mixed messages on the subject, with many British MPs unable to see the point of building an expensive new satellite constellation when the existing, US military-funded Global Positioning System (GPS) architecture is already running and free for all to use.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the title of the draft IFRI conference agenda (pdf) is "Should Europe continue with the Galileo Programme?"

Apparently even the European Commission (EC) - the permanent bureaucracy of the European Union, and naturally a citadel of pro-Galileo sentiment - has its realists.

"Does Europe want or need its own satellite navigation system?" asked Matthias Ruete, EC director general for energy and transport.

"We have 27 member states. For each member state, we have five or six different authorities, all driving in different directions."

Ruete is, of course, pro-Galileo, but he admits that there isn't any direct, visible money to be made from it (other than for companies who might build, launch, and run the satellites). Like most of his EC colleagues, Ruete favours Galileo because it makes Europe less dependent on the United States' GPS.

"Do we want to make more and more critical applications dependent on a system over which we have no control?" he asks.

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