New schedule emerges for Europe's Galileo navigation satellite system

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With the impending approval of the new financing and work share arrangements for the delayed European navigation satellite system, Galileo, the timetable for its procurement and deployment is emerging.

The European Space Agency will now lead the procurement of the navigation system's 30 satellites. It is expecting to release the request for information to industry early in 2008, place a contract in the third quarter and have spacecraft delivery start in 2009, with a launch programme from 2010 through 2012.

The RFI will begin the process to select the companies for the production of the first four and subsequent 26 of Galileo's 30 satellites. The first four are known as the in-orbit validation (IOV) spacecraft as they test the technology.

ESA has decided it can release the RFI before it concludes the new agreement it has to make with the European Commission. This is needed as the original spacecraft provider was the industrial consortium European Satellite Navigation Industries, which is being abandoned.

"We have never done this with the [EC]. We need a formal procurement agreement with the EC," says ESA, which is holding a navigation programme board meeting next week to discuss the new arrangements.

The agency expects the first two IOV spacecraft to be launched by the beginning of 2010 and the second two six months later. The twin spacecraft launch will use Starsem provided Samara Space Center Soyuz 2 rockets operating from either ESA's Sinnamary, French Guiana launch complex or Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

After the two IOV flights, the launch scheme for the constellation will be two Ariane 5s, with six satellites each, and four Soyuz, with a total of eight spacecraft, over two years. This provides the 24 satellites, IOV included, to enable the global service to begin in 2013.

The remaining hurdles for the start of the new arrangement are a 13 December European Parliament vote to approve Galileo financing from unspent European Union agricultural funds and other sources and a final green light by the transport ministers' council, a date for which has yet to be set.