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Second Galileo satellite delayed 'til 2008

Spectrum placeholder held up by Russian rocketry

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Hotly-debated European sat nav project Galileo has suffered a technical delay in addition to its budgetary and political woes.

Media reports suggest the Giove-B satellite, second in a series of testbed and validation platforms preceding the main Galileo birds, will not now be launched until next year.

Giove B, which has already suffered delays, was to be orbited aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in December. Now, however, a spokesman from launch company Arianespace has apparently told the Financial Times Deutschland that:

"The forecast launch of the second satellite in December will now be held in March 2008."

Problems with the launch rocket rather than the satellite were blamed for the delay.

The Galileo programme needs to keep a satellite in space and broadcasting continuously in order to maintain its rights to use the necessary frequencies.

The present Giove-A satellite was built and launched on a rapid schedule for this reason, and after previous delays to Giove-B a reserve Giove-A2 was ordered earlier this year. It will now remain to be seen whether Giove-A2 or Giove-B is orbited first; but there doesn't yet seem to be any danger of Galileo losing its spectrum allocation.

Meanwhile, following the collapse of planned construction investment from the private sector, an intense debate has been underway in Brussels and European national capitals as to full public funding for Galileo. Many have suggested that the embattled project only makes sense on military-strategic grounds, as for commercial purposes the free civil signal of the US military GPS constellation is sufficient.

On the other hand, a major selling point for Galileo over GPS could be the fact that the US military retain the option of switching off or degrading their civil signal at times and places of their choice. Galileo was originally supposed to offer a guarantee that this would not occur, but European commissioners have appeared to back away from that position recently. It is also widely believed that the French military at least would like to see a stronger integrated European push for military use of space.

The commissioners have recently presented their plan for financing Galileo's construction from the public purse, suggesting that unused farm subsidy budgets could be diverted. National transport ministers will discuss the proposals in coming weeks. ®

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