Workshare dispute threatens satellite navigation project

Europe's Galileo satellite navigation programme is again being threatened by political bickering as Belgium and Spain seek greater work share in the €3.2 billion project. As well as putting the 2008 start-up date in doubt, the European Commission believes the latest in a long line of political disputes could herald a change in the role of the European Space Agency (ESA), which has so far failed to resolve the arguments.

The EC was last week threatening to go to Europe's transport ministers to request that the Joint Undertaking - the body to oversee management of the programme for the next four years and issue contracts for its development - starts work without the €550 million finance from ESA members.

ESA's funding - matching €550 million already committed by the EC - cannot be released until all members agree. Belgium and Spain are unhappy with the amount of work they have been offered, with Spain seeking to increase its share from 9.5% to 10.5% or 11%, and Belgium hoping to increase its 4.5% share, says Olivier Onidi, head of the EC's Galileo unit.

Spain says it has been a big supporter of Galileo and has contributed strongly to the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System - the first stage of Europe's satellite navigation programme.

The EC says it is crucial that the Joint Undertaking is established as soon as possible and contracts are issued for the programme, adding that unless work starts this year, Galileo is effectively "dead".

If a Galileo testbed is not operational by June 2006, it will lose the hard-won radio frequencies. The EC concedes it is "quite concerned" and is urging ESA to resolve the dispute, which follows earlier workshare disputes involving Germany and Italy. The project has been plagued by delays since it was launched in 1999.

Onidi says the disputes have highlighted the fact that ESA "is not adequate to master these crises". With Europe currently devising a space policy for the continent, the dispute could affect ESA's future role, he says, adding that the EC would like to take on space legislative, regulatory and financial issues and ESA could retain its role in technical issues.

Source: Flight International