The European Commission has awarded over €1 billion in contracts to build and launch the first 14 satellites of Galileo, Europe's satnav system and rival to GPS.
The EU backed Galileo system is due to become operational in early 2014, and has the capacity to include up to 32 satellites.
Germany's OHB System and SSTL of the UK have secured the €566 million construction contracts for the satellites while Arienspace will launch them for €397 million using Russian Soyuz rockets.
An €85 million supply system contract was also awarded to Italy’s ThalesAleniaSpace of Italy.
“With this and the upcoming awards for the remaining procurement packages, we are concluding a critical phase of the Galileo program. We can now focus on the actual roll-out and demonstrate to European citizens that Europe’s own satellite navigation system is firmly underway”, European Commission VP in charge of Transport Antonio Tajani said in a statement.
The remaining contracts which include ground mission infrastructure, the ground control infrastructure and the operations should be awarded by mid-2010.
The Galileo project, which was instigated in the late 1990s, has attracted its share of detractors due to delays and cost blowouts. The EU claims that Galileo will provide even more accurate positioning than the US system, thanks to its more advanced technology.