Brussels: The European Commission (EC) has said that a private consortium, asked to run Europe's satellite navigation system, Galileo, had made "insufficient progress", resulting in unacceptable delays and risks for public finances. The EC's tough talk came after a private consortium missed a key EU 10 May deadline for moving the project forward.
The consortium comprises leading European aerospace and telecom concerns: EADS, Thales, Inmarsat, Alcatel-Lucent, Finmeccanica, AENA, Hispasat, and TeleOp.
With the consortium giving the deadline a skip it would, very likely, mean that European taxpayers would now have to step in to cover an advance payment for construction costs.
The contract for the first four satellites of the system was awarded at the end of 2004 and it is time to order the remaining 26. The EC is now expected to present new plans involving an overhaul of the project on 16 May, which it will then send for approval to the EU's transport ministers in June.
The EC had set a 10 May deadline for the consortium to come forward with a single company structure to run Galileo. The restructuring would have involved the appointment of a chief executive along with a common negotiating position for all the firms.
The Galileo system's network of 30 satellites will beam radio signals to receiving devices on the ground, helping users to pinpoint their location. The system is designed to bring greater accuracy and reliability to navigation and timing signals delivered from space.
The Galileo is a European Commission and European Space Agency project and is designed to work alongside the US GPS and the Russian Glonass systems. It is designed to deliver real-time positioning down to less than a metre and is guaranteed under all but most extreme circumstances.
A rescheduled programme now expects to see the launch of 30 satellites in batches by the end of 2011-12. Originally, these satellites were to have been launched by 2008. The date was postponed to 2011/12, however, due to disagreements between EU governments on how to pay for the system. Under a financing programme then agreed upon, two-thirds of the investment was to be borne by the private sector, which was also expected to pick up all the long term running costs.
The system's first demonstrator spacecraft, Giove-A, is already in orbit and a second, Giove-B, which has faced some technical problems, is expected to be in orbit by the end of the year.