Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system could be forced to operate with fewer satellites than planned, with orders being lined up for just 22 of the 28 spacecraft that were to be procured this year. No decision has yet been taken by the European Commission on when it will buy the rest.

The 22 would be added to the first four operational spacecraft being launched in 2010 to make up 26, two more than the 24 needed for global coverage. The 22 will be orbited over a series of launches from 2012. The EC revealed the cut in spacecraft numbers to industry on 2 October when it asked the two companies selected to compete for the space segment, Germany's OHB System and EADS Astrium, for their "best of final offers". These have to be submitted by 13 November and the procurement decision is expected by the end of the year.

OHB chief operating officer Fritz Merkle told Flightglobal that the operational constellation would now be the 22, the first four satellites launched in 2010 and the two Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element (GIOVE) test satellites already in orbit. The original plan had been to have 30 in orbit, not counting GIOVE A and B.

The Commission did not comment on whether the reduced spacecraft numbers is an attempt to stave off potential cost increases for Galileo, which has had an unchanged €3.4 billion ($5 billion) price tag for years. However, according to the Commission: "We are ordering in two batches. The first batch will contain 22 and the second one, six. Total 28 [with] two on the ground [as spares]. A decision still needs to be taken when we will order the second batch."

Source: Flight International