Galileo gets go ahead

The European Union gave its final approval to the much-delayed Galileo satellite navigation programme, whose €3.4 billion (US$5.35 billion) costs will be borne by EU taxpayers, an Associated Press report said.

The EU transport ministers have created an oversight panel, the Galileo Surveillance Authority, and put the European Commission in charge of the Galileo programme, aided by the Paris-based European Space Agency.

Although touted as being technologically superior to the rival US GPS system, Galileo was scheduled to be operational by 2013, but has encountered delays, the Associated Press report said.

Its first satellite was launched in 2005, but the second missed its late 2006 launch due to a short-circuiting problem during the final testing, the report said.

EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot is reported to be confident that the second satellite would be launched 26 April by a Russian Soyuz rocket and that Galileo will become operational as planned.

He was quoted in the report saying, 'We are sending a clear message that the European Union remains committed to provide all EU nationals and companies with a high-quality satellite navigation system by 2013'.

Last autumn, European Union governments had to agree to a taxpayer bail-out after a consortium of private companies from France, Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy walked away from the project in a financing dispute.

Matters were complicated further when Spain then demanded a ground control station as part of the 30 satellite constellation though only two, one in Germany and one in Italy, were initially foreseen.

At least €1 billion (US$1.48 billion) of taxpayers' money has already been spent on the project.