Thales is poised to become the sixth member of the Galileo Industries consortium that is building the European navigation satellite system.
The French company will take a 12% stake in the five-nation partnership. The four main shareholders, France's Alcatel Space, Italy's Alenia Spazio and the German and UK divisions of EADS Astrium, will reduce their holdings from 21% to 19%, while the share held by a grouping of seven Spanish companies will fall to 12%.
Galileo's owners, the European Space Agency and European Union, are expected to award the consortium the €1.1 billion ($1.31 billion) "in-orbit verification" contract later this year to build the first four test satellites and ground infrastructure. If successful, these will be followed by a further 26 satellites - the so-called "full operational capacity" phase - between 2006 and the end of the decade.
Later this year, the EU/ESA body, the Galileo Joint Undertaking, is expected to choose who will operate the system from consortia led by EADS, Eutelsat and Finmeccanica.
After long bickering about where to situate the Galileo Industries headquarters, the consortium has compromised by opening offices last month in Ottobrunn, Germany and Rome, Italy.
MURDO MORRISON / BERLIN
Source: Flight International