September 22, 2008

Eleven Firms Shortlisted For Europe’s Galileo Sat-Nav System

Eleven out of the 21 industrial groups expressing interest in building Europe's Galileo satellite-navigation system were shortlisted for contracts. 

The new system will compete with, but also complement, the United States' GPS network.

The European Commission has budgeted more than two billion euros (almost $4 billion USD) for the project to construct 26 satellites, purchase launch rockets and set up the ground control centers. The Commission's partner, the European Space Agency (ESA), is managing the project's procurement with the goal of having Galileo fully operational by 2013.

As expected, the shortlist contains many of the continent's leading aerospace, telecom and IT firms, who will now make their case to the ESA and the Commission that they are best suited to deliver the best technical solutions at the right price.

The new system will work alongside the U.S. GPS and Russian Glonass systems, and will provide real-time positioning down to less than 3 feet under all but the most extreme conditions.  It's reliability will be high enough to allow the system to be used for safety-critical roles in which lives depend on the service.

Galileo is expected to significantly improve the accuracy and availability of timing signals delivered from space.

The new system will allow users to locate their positions more quickly and reliably with an error of one meter, an improvement compared with the current GPS error of several meters.

However, the project has struggled with delays and cost overruns.  An initial procurement plan involving a partnership between the private and public sectors fell through, and the Commission was forced to restart the program into one that will be wholly funded from the public budget.  However many of the companies in the original partnership are nevertheless included in the shortlist of the eleven competing groups now competing to win construction contracts.

The shortlisted groups and their "work packages" include: 

System Support (to assemble all the project elements together) --  ThalesAleniaSpace (Italy); Logica (The Netherlands)

Ground Mission System (for timing and navigation data) --  ThalesAleniaSpace (France); Logica (UK)

Ground Control System (for monitoring the satellite constellation -- Astrium (UK); G-Nav grouping represented by Lockheed Martin IS&S (UK)

Space segment (to construct the satellites) -- Astrium (Germany); OHB (Germany)

Launch Services (the rockets that will loft the network) -- Arianespace (France)

Operations (the day-to-day management and operation of the system) --  Inmarsat (UK); DLR (Germany) and Telespazio (Italy)

Each of the six work packages have strict rules with respect to how much work can be awarded to each firm and how much can sub-contracted to partners.

Some initial work on Galileo is already underway, with four operational satellites and some ground control systems being built. 

Once the contracts are awarded, much of the work will be spread throughout Europe, and could be spread wider still if work segments are split to speed up construction, something likely to happen for the preparation of the satellites.

It appears for now that the spacecraft will be a joint effort between the UK and Germany, with Britain preparing the satellite payloads and Germany performing the construction and final integration.

"This is really great for UK industry," SSTL's Phil Davies told BBC News.

"It gives us a key role far into the future."

Considering that the first four constellation spacecraft are expected to be launched in 2010, with the remaining 26 by 2013, the project is operating under tight timelines. 

A test satellite named Giove-B was launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan in April.  Giove-B contains critical technologies, such as atomic clocks, that will ultimately be built into the 30 operational platforms that form the Galileo network.

Europe has spent 1.6bn euros on the project to date.  The European Parliament and ministers have cautioned that the additional 3.4bn euros recently approved for all sat-nav investments will be the final expenditure limit.


Image Caption: Artist's impression of GIOVE-B in orbit Credits: ESA


On the Net: