Galileo navigation satellite provider to be dismantled

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The Ottobrunn, Germany based-European Satellite Navigation Industries consortium that was to deliver the infrastructure for the European Union's Galileo satellite navigation system programme is being dismantled under the project's new arrangements.

Originally called Galileo Industries, the renamed ESNI was a joint venture created in the year 2000 between Thales Alenia Space, Finmeccanica, EADS Astrium and Spain's Grupo Navegacion Por Satelite Sistemas y Servicios consortium, to be the infrastructure industrial prime contractor.

During the past seven years ESNI has had two chief executives, the latest being former European Space Agency future launcher preparatory programme manager Jurgen Ackermann, and had been awarded the Galileo System Test Bed-Version 1 and Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element (GIOVE)-B contracts. These were for ground data collection and off-line processing facilities and the construction of the second test spacecraft, GIOVE-B, respectively.

UK company Surrey Satellite Technology built the first test spacecraft, GIOVE-A, which was successfully deployed in December 2005. GIOVE-B will be launched in March 2008.

"ESA will now oversee the [infrastructure] procurement," says a Galileo programme source. ESNI was not available for comment.

ESNI is a victim of the collapse of the Galileo programme's original public, private partnership arrangement brought about by the lack of agreement between the constellation's regulatory authority, the GNSS Supervisory Authority, its forerunner the Galileo Joint Undertaking, and the constellation's operator, which would have been the Galileo Operating Company (GOC) - a joint venture that would have been owned by a consortium of companies selected by the European Commission.

Political difficulties between EU member states saw the collapse of the process to select the GOC consortium, which would have invested €2.4 billion ($3.54 billion) to pay for the constellation's deployment and place contracts with ESNI.

As part of the new wholly public funded and managed development and deployemt of Galileo, the ESA will oversee the infrastructure procurement with the industrial work divided into six segments proposed by the EC.

At the 29-30 November EU transport council meeting the EC segmentation proposal was approved. This will see a competitive bidding process that will determine who wins each of the segment's contracts, but no one company is allowed to be a prime contractor on more than two of these packages or have more than 40% of the subcontracting work for the available segments.

On 26 November the European Parliament's budget committee agreed with the EU's council of member states' finance ministers to raise the missing GOC consortium €2.4 billion with €1.6 billion from monies planned for agricultural support this year, but not spent, and the redeployment of funds from various other programmes. This agreement has to be approved by the European Parliament at its plenary session on 13 December.