European Commission to push ahead with satellite navigation project with "technical assistance" from space agency

The European Commission (EC) has given the European Space Agency (ESA) a March deadline to resolve funding issues surrounding the Galileo satellite navigation system. The EC was forced to create the joint venture's legal framework earlier this month without ESA matching its €550 million ($586 million) investment due to internal squabbles yet to be resolved (Flight International, 14-20 January).

Olivier Onidi, the EC's head of unit for Galileo, says that the EC is now forging ahead with the project, "with the assistance of the ESA for technical matters". The EC is to call the second supervisory meeting of the joint undertaking in mid-February, when a director will be appointed and initial tenders issued. The EC's transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio is drawing up a shortlist of candidates for the top job, with "advice" from her ESA counterpart. Onidi admits that in theory the EC could run the entire project, using ESA as a technical subcontractor, as it does with the EC/ESA/Eurocontrol European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS).

The project has already been allocated €240 million from the European Union's 2001-2 budget and €100 million from this year's budget, says Onidi. "If there is no money from the ESA by March, we will have to issue the calls for tender on our own and identify parts of the project that could be financed exclusively from EU funds," he says. He adds that €340 million is "enough money to fund the project's key development phase".

Research ministers from ESA member states are meeting this week to try to find a compromise in the division of its 50% share of the €1.1 billion project's funding. Both Germany and Italy want to lead the project, with a guarantee of the largest share of workshare as a result.

The EC is optimistic the impasse will be resolved next month. "There is no opposition on principle, it is only the industrial fine-tuning that has to be completed," says Onidi.

Source: Flight International