The chances of a European rival to the US Global Positioning System have increased after reports emerged that the partners making up the Galileo project have settled their differences and finally signed a joint venture agreement.
Last week, Jacques Barrot, the EU transport commissioner, said he was writing to the eight companies building the Galileo system to discover the reason why the project was running a year behind its operation deadline of 2010.
The Galileo project is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency. It aims to build and operate a network of up to 30 satellites that will provide location-based services globally to service providers. Its direct rival is the US GPS network, which is owned and operated by the US Department of Defense.
The Galileo project is to be built by a consortium including the European aerospace company EADS, France’s Thales and Alcatel-Lucent, the UK’s Inmarsat Plc, Italy’s Finmeccanica, AENA and Hispasat of Spain, and a number of German companies including Deutsche Telekom AG.
Now it seems that the companies have finally signed a joint venture agreement, and some of the members of the consortium at least are optimistic of the future of the project, despite past difficulties.
Speaking to Computer Business Review, Patrick McDougal, vice president of corporate development at the UK satellite operator Inmarsat, and who is also and director of the Galileo program, was frank about the problems the project has faced in the past.
There were some real problems with the original deadline of 2010, said McDougal, citing delays to the concession program, and the slowness to incorporate and put in place plans that were needed.
He was also frank about the reasons for going to the expense of building a network of satellites to rival the GPS system, and was insistent that the project is not a rival to GPS, and indeed will actually complement the GPS system.
This is a pan European project on an unprecedented basis, said McDougal. Galileo will combine the GPS open signal but will offer significant improvement in positioning with up to single digit meters.
Galileo will offer option to have signals authenticated and guaranteed to make a more robust promise for service providers, he told Computer Business Review.
He confirmed the Galileo system would utilize a different chipset to that of the GPS system, and was upbeat about the prospects going forward.
I am cautiously optimistic, he said, Galileo will go forward one way or another. Whether it will go forward in the same manner of the previous few years, we don’t know yet.