After three years of talks, Europe and the United States finally struck a "win-win" deal on sharing their high precision satellite navigation systems, resolving a transatlantic row.
Galileo will have 30 satellites in its global network.
The European Union and the United States agreed to avoid competition between their satellite navigation systems, in a deal struck late Wednesday after years of tense negotiation.
"We have agreed upon the rules of working together," the chief EU negotiator Heinz Hilbrecht told Germany's DPA news agency in Brussels on Thursday.
For his part, the U.S. negotiator noted that the deal avoids undermining the U.S. military, which was a main sticking point in the talks.
"We have now agreed on signal structures that will not degrade the navigation warfare capabilities of U.S. and military forces," Ralph Braibanti, director of the U.S. State Department's Office of Space and Advanced Technology, told Reuters.
"All in all we have achieved what was always our objective, a win-win outcome. We still have some details to work out but the major principles ... are now in place," Braibanti said.
EU Transport and Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said the agreement would allow consumers "to use in a complementary way both systems with the same receiver: it creates indeed the world standard of radio-navigation by satellite."
Testing the GPS system
In the future, private satellite navigation customers -- car drivers, logistics firms, boaters and hikers, for example -- should be able to use both the U.S. GPS (Global Positioning System) and Europe's Galileo system.
2008 start planned
The €3.6 billion ($4.5 billion) Galileo project has been in the works for several years, but has been dogged by cost problems and tricky negotiations with Washington.
Now the network of 30 satellites is scheduled to take effect in 2008, but simultaneous use of both systems will first be possible with a new generation of GPS satellites, Braibanti clarified. This will be sometime between 2010 and 2020.
Until now, the United States had opposed the development of Galileo, arguing that it would interrupt U.S. military signals. While Washington said Galileo would be unnecessary and redundant, Europeans were keen to push on with the satellite system so they would not be tied to using the Pentagon-controlled GPS.
French President Jacques Chirac once warned that Europe risked becoming "vassals" if the system was not approved.
The deal was finalized after the EU agreed to accept frequencies for signals it had initially rejected, thus allaying U.S. military concerns. The Europeans compromised on their open, general signal and the one for government agencies and rescue services.
The Pentagon had been worried the latter would interfere with its future M-code military signal.
The EU's Hilbrecht told Reuters the compromise would not hurt Galileo's performance.
For its part, the United States conceded that commercial-use satellites need to be protected from interruptions and disturbances. In the past, Washington had occasionally turned off its GPS system citing military reasons.
Nevertheless, the agreement still allows for both sides to shut down civil signals or disturb reception in a war zone. Contractual and legal questions still need to be clarified, but the aim is to have everything worked out so an agreement can be signed at an EU-U.S. summit in June.
China's role questioned
The United States was critical of the possibility that China would work together with Europe on the Galileo project. In October, China and the EU signed an agreement committing Beijing to a €200 million stake in Galileo. Russia and India have also shown interest in taking part in the project. But the EU's cooperation deal with China excludes technology transfers.
Earlier this month the European Commission short-listed three groups as possible operators of the Galileo system. Consortiums led by Eutelsat, Inmarsat/EADS/Thales and Alcatel Space/Vinci will go into a final process of competitive negotiation to win the contract, it said.