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ESA hoping for Galileo sat nav on line in 2013

Brussels still predicting 2008... oops

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Following outline agreements on funding between EU member states, the revised schedule for Euro-collaborative sat nav project Galileo is emerging. Planners hope to have the system globally operational in 2013.

Galileo has been mired in funding disputes for most of 2007, following the breakdown of negotiations with private sector investors who had been supposed to provide €2.4bn of the construction costs. It has recently been agreed that the missing cash will be found from unspent farm subsidy cash already in EU coffers, but complicated bargaining over procurement was required.

Flight International reports today that the construction phase will be managed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The ESA is not part of the EU government, having a different list of member states. However, ESA funds and expertise have been drawn on extensively in the programme thus far.

"We need a formal procurement agreement with the European Commission," an ESA spokesman told Flight.

The ESA expects a fast-moving launch programme from this point. The intial In-Orbit Validation (IOV) quartet of spacecraft should be launched in 2010 on two Soyuz rockets. After that, the plan would be to orbit the remaining 26 satellites on two massive Ariane V lifts of six each and a further eight twin-sat Soyuz launches.

The ESA expects to put out a request for information to industry early next year, and start receiving deliveries of spacecraft in 2009.

Final approval of the funding plan must still be given by the European parliament this month, and by national transport ministers. However, a draft agreement is in place and these should be no more than formalities.

Procurement itself will be challenging, though, as negotiations regarding the lucrative contracts reached Byzantine levels during the EU funding talks. ESA buyers will find that they have very little flexibility as to where money can be spent, almost regardless of other purchasing considerations such as price and timescale. They may find that even getting their formal agreement with Brussels takes some little time.

The EU government, in classic style, is still on record as believing that Galileo "will be fully operable in 2008 at the latest", which shows that predictions in this area may occasionally need a pinch of salt. ®

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