European Union ministers reached an agreement on Friday, Nov. 30, on how the work for the long-delayed satellite navigation project Galileo would be divided up among the 27 member countries.
At an EU meeting of the bloc's transport ministers, Spain, which had made demands to host a ground station for a network of some 30 satellites, first dissented, but later agreed.
Under the current deal, the Galileo program, which is budgeted at 3.4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) and intended to reduce the EU's reliance on the US Global Position System (GPS), plans to install only two ground control stations: one near Munich and one in Rome.
No money for third ground station
"We just don't have the money for a third ground station," an unidentified EU diplomat told the Associated Press. Dominique Bussereau, France's deputy transport minister, however, suggested to the AP that Spain ought to be awarded a Galileo test center.
Under the compromise reached Friday, Spain's "Safety of Life" center could "evolve into a fully qualified" control center by 2013, allowing Madrid to supervise operation of the satellites and their transmissions to Earth.
"The Spanish center, once it is up and running from a technical point of view, would act as a control center along with the others" in Germany and Italy, EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot explained.
After a consortium of private companies abandoned Galileo earlier this year due to a financing dispute, the European Commission agreed last Friday to fund the entire program, with most of the additional 2.4 billion euro ($3.6 billion) in funding coming from leftover agricultural funds and the rest from research, transport and administration budgets.
Germany wants its fair share of Galileo projects
As the biggest contributor to the EU budget, Germany wants Astrium, a German-dominated subsidiary of the European aerospace giant EADS, to have a proportionate share of Galileo contracts.
The main issue hacked out by the transport ministers was how to slice the Galileo pie among European companies. While competition rules would normally dictate that contracts be awarded on a best-offer basis, the European space industry is concentrated into a few main groups which have demanded a higher share of the lucrative business.
The agreement, however, does not allow a single company to obtain an inordinately large portion of the project's contracts.
"Galileo will become the spearhead for European technology," Barrot told reporters. "We are on the way towards putting Galileo into operation for 2013 and to offer Europeans very many services."
The Galileo project has been plagued by delays and is already running five years behind schedule with only one test satellite up in orbit. At least 1 billion euros of taxpayer money have already been spent.