08 May 2007

Battle for the Heavens

Europe's ambitious satellite-navigation system project Galileo may be grounded owing to deadlock in the consortium of private builders commissioned to construct the 30 satellites. In a sense this is both good and bad news.

The Good News

Galileo [Credit: ESA]This may prove a godsend to those of us who have concerns about European anti-Americanism and who have reservations about the expansion of the European superstate. For, the Galileo project was supposed to "underpin the common European defence policy," would boost Europe's military capability independent of both NATO and the US, and risked creating the conditions whereby conflict with America would be almost inevitable. Moreover, Britain's involvement in the project as a member of the EU could jeopardise our relationship with the States and our access to technological information and advances that America might want to keep from its military competitors.

The Bad News

Next week, the EU Transport Commissioner is due to announce whether the EC is to abandon the project or, perhaps more likely, partially finance or take complete control of it. This last option would cost the European tax-payer (yes, that's you and me) an extra €2 billion (£1.35 billion) — that's in addition to the €1.5 billion (>£1 billion) that the European Commission has already allocated in its current budget period — and with each delay the project incurs additional costs, such as the unplanned signal testing satellite that the European Space Agency was forced to order earlier this year in order to maintain the rights to Galileo's frequency allocations.

Originally projected to be fully operational by next year, Galileo now risks being under construction until at least 2014. In the meantime, it is feared that China, who originally invested in Galileo, may be developing its own satnav network, as is Russia, who is expected to have 18 spacecraft in orbit by the end of this year. So, Europe may find itself paying for yet another great white elephant that nobody else wants to invest in.

Even if the EC does decide to finance the project, at least we will all have a few more years yet to think through Galileo's implications. In the pursuit of regional peace and stability, I suppose that is a price worth paying.


The Stonemason said...

Concorde, Chunnel, Euro-fighter, Galileo...The omens were never good for a successful project - but given our own government's dismal failures on delivering high-tech projects this was surely a racig certainty to fail.