— The frequencies allotted to the Galileo satellite navigation system will be safeguarded under a deal announced by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Monday.
Surrey Satellite Technology (SST) in the UK was awarded the contract to build a satellite that will permanently secure Galileo's frequencies. "From now on, there will always be a European navigation satellite in space," the ESA announcement promised.
Billed as a rival to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), the Galileo project will see 30 satellites deployed at an orbital altitude of 23,000 kilometres and the network should be made commercially operational by 2010.
To claim the frequencies for the network, ESA sent up a first satellite, called GIOVE-A, in December 2005. It started emitting test calibration signals on 12 January, 2006. A second satellite, GIOVE-B, was scheduled to launch later that year, but the mission has twice been postponed because of technical problems. It is now pencilled in for late 2007.
Under the rules of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an operator risks losing frequency rights if a break in service lasts longer than two years. Thus, if GIOVE-A breaks down and GIOVE-B is delayed significantly, ESA could lose the frequency altogether.
Back up system
Under the new contract, SST will develop a new satellite, called GIOVE-A2, to serve as a backup. GIOVE-A2 will be ready for launch in the second half of 2008, ESA says, although the exact launch date would depend on the state of GIOVE-A and GIOVE-B.
The satellite, costing 25 to 30 million ($35 to 40 million), will be based on the design of GIOVE-A, which was also built by SST.
ESA has already awarded contracts for the development and launch of Galileo's first four satellites to a consortium of companies.
The navigation system will be compatible with GPS but is being promoted as more accurate. Unlike GPS, Galileo will stay under civilian control, increasing the European Union's strategic independence from the US.
The project has hit other hitches, however. A contract for ceding operation of Galileo to an eight-member private consortium has still to be agreed and signed, and the EU has yet to decide where its overseer, a public body called the Galileo Supervisory Authority, will be sited.