Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Satellite tie-up for fast Galileo

Giove-A satellite (European Space Agency)
The test satellite, Giove-A, was launched in 2005

The UK company that built the test satellite for Europe's Galileo network is joining forces with a German firm to bid together to build more satellites.

SSTL believes the link-up will drive down costs and speed up production by boosting competition among suppliers.

Europe's proposed rival to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) has been delayed by rows over funding.

A compromise deal is expected to be announced at a meeting of transport ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

It follows a recent agreement by EU members to use leftover portions of the farming budget and spare science and technology funds to cover a 4bn euros (3bn) funding gap. The shortfall was created when a private consortium asked to build and operate Galileo collapsed.

Under the new deal, the work will be split into six segments, enabling all countries to get a share of the construction work.

Project impetus

Amid this backdrop, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) is joining forces with OHB, based in Bremen, Germany.

Artist's impression of Galileo constellation, Esa
A European Commission and European Space Agency project
30 satellites to be launched in batches by end of 2011-12
Will work alongside US GPS and Russian Glonass systems
Promises real-time positioning down to less than a metre
Guaranteed under all but most extreme circumstances
Suitable for safety-critical roles where lives depend on service

OHB has built several satellites for research purposes and is involved in human spaceflight and the Columbus space laboratory.

"To date there's been no competition for operational Galileo satellites," said Phillip Davies, the business development manager at Guildford-based SSTL.

"The announcement of the new team opens up the possibility of a real competition."

The partnership believes it can produce Galileo spacecraft quickly and at an extremely competitive price. OHB would build the satellites; SSTL would produce the electronic payloads.

The 30-strong constellation of Galileo satellites was conceived in the 1990s as an alternative to GPS, the technology that underpins car navigation systems and tracking devices.

European market

The proposed European system promises to improve the availability and precision of location and timing signals delivered from space. Designed to work alongside GPS, the enhanced programme is expected to drive many new applications, especially as new mobile phones come on to the market with sat-nav functionality.

Galileo will have five services geared to different types of application or need.

So far only a single test satellite - built and operated by SSTL - has been launched. Giove-A was lofted from Kazakhstan in December 2005.

A contract for the first four satellites in the final constellation was placed with a consortium, known today as European Satellite Navigation Industries, in 2004. New contracts must be placed in the coming months for more spacecraft if Galileo is to maintain its present schedule of being operational by the end of 2012.

A committee of British MPs recently called for the scheme to be curtailed unless there was a more convincing cost-benefit analysis; but SSTL has always maintained that once the system becomes even partially operational, the benefits will be obvious. It believes its partnership with OHB provides a solution to getting Galileo working quickly.

NAVIGATION Open Access This will be 'free to air' and for use by the mass market; Simple timing and positioning down to 1m
Commercial Encrypted; High accuracy at the cm scale; Guaranteed service for which service providers will charge fees
Oil rig
Safety of life Open service; For applications where guaranteed accuracy is essential; Integrity messages warn of errors
Public regulated Encrypted; Continuous availability even in time of crisis; Government agencies will be main users
SAR Search and Rescue System will pick up distress beacon locations; Feasible to send feedback, confirming help is on its way

video and audio news
Galileo's project director defending the satellite system

Galileo 'compromise' is emerging
23 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature
Europe launches Galileo satellite
28 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature
Q&A: Europe's Galileo project
28 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific