Page last updated at 13:05 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 14:05 UK

Contest to build Galileo begins

Giove-B (Esa)
A test satellite known as Giove-B was recently launched

The procurement process has opened to construct the much-delayed Galileo satellite-navigation system.

The European Commission is setting aside more than two billion euros to build 26 satellites, buy launch rockets and set up the ground control centres.

Companies inside and outside the EU are being asked to declare their interest.

The commission's partner, the European Space Agency, will run the procurement contest with the aim of Galileo being fully operational by 2013.

Galileo is touted as a key high-technology venture for the EU.

The new network will give EU states guaranteed access to a space-borne precise timing and location service independent of the US Global Positioning System (GPS).

Its development, though, has been controversial because of prolonged political squabbling, technical problems and cost overruns.

Final system

The Commission was forced last year to revise Galileo after the collapse of the private consortium asked to build and operate the system.

Construction of Galileo will now be paid for entirely from European taxes, with some of the companies from the failed consortium certain to be among the eventual contractors.

GALILEO UNDER CONSTRUCTION
A European Commission and European Space Agency project
30 satellites to be launched in batches by end of 2013
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

Some 3bn euros have been set aside by finance ministers for Galileo through to 2013, although a spokesman for the Commission said that the procurement process announced on Tuesday should cost no more than 2.1bn euros.

Some work on Galileo is already under way - four operational satellites and some ground control systems are in the process of being built. The contracts now open to competition will complete the network.

They are being offered as "six work packages", with strict rules governing how much work can go to each company and how much of that work must then be sub-contracted to partners.

Some of the big aerospace and telecom concerns in Europe and the US are sure to participate. They will have to notify their interest first of all. A shortlist of companies will then be asked to submit formal bids. All contracts should be in place by mid 2009, a spokesman for the Commission told reporters in Brussels.

Demonstration lead

Timescales are tight. The first four constellation spacecraft are expected to be launched in 2010, with the remaining 26 put in orbit by the end of 2013.

In April this year, a test satellite dubbed Giove-B was launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Giove-B contains key technologies - such as atomic clocks - which will eventually be built into the 30 operational platforms that form the Galileo network.

Europe has already spent 1.6bn euros ($2.5bn; 1.3bn) on the project and ministers and the European Parliament have warned that the additional 3.4bn euros ($5.3bn; 2.7bn) recently approved for sat-nav investments will be the limit on expenditure.

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