Political infighting threatens Europe's satnav plans

 作者:巫吲     |      日期:2017-12-16 06:01:10
By Paul Marks Political infighting is undermining the European Union’s biggest ever joint technology programme: the Galileo satellite navigation network. By 2011, Galileo was to have ended reliance on America’s Global Positioning System system, a network that can be switched off at the whim of the Pentagon. But divisive power struggles among the eight European companies that comprise the industrial consortium chosen by the EU to run Galileo are putting the programme’s future in doubt. Galileo’s 30 satellites are to be launched into mid-Earth orbits at a cost of around €3.2 billion, with one third of that coming from the EU, and the rest coming from the consortium, which hopes to recoup its investment by selling location-based technology and services. By the end of 2006, the consortium was to have formed a single Galileo operating company and have appointed an independent chief executive so the project has a “clear decision making structure” says Paul Verhoef, Galileo programme manager at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. However, no company has been formed, and the consortium remains rudderless – and unable to place orders for Galileo’s critical satellites. “This is posing major problems. As time schedules slip, costs go up,” says Verhoef. “And Galileo is now at risk of running to unacceptable schedules.” German technology analyst firm Bitkom reckons Galileo will not be up and running until 2014 or later – which represents a delay of at least three years from the original plan. “The EU is now not talking to the consortium until it sorts itself out and comes back as a single company,” says Richard Peckham of EADS Astrium in Portsmouth, UK. “The EU can’t continue to negotiate with eight individual companies.” National interests are one of the roots of the debilitating stasis. While each consortium member’s nation has secured some aspects of Galileo’s operations on its own territory, arguments continue. “The Spanish firms are the current block,” says one source close to the consortium’s negotiations. “They are making outrageous demands over guaranteed workshare arrangements. But Spain has already secured a completely unnecessary control centre and people aren’t having any more.” The multinational arguments strike a chord with observers familiar with some of the problems experienced by Airbus Industrie, the troubled pan-European plane maker, which has been riven with UK, French, German and Spanish rivalries. “Galileo is now being compared with the Airbus situation. Unfortunately that analysis is correct,” says Verhoef. Continued delays in ordering the satellites are having an expensive knock-on effect, too. Last week, Galileo’s technology developer, the European Space Agency, was forced to order Giove-A2, a €30 million Galileo signal testing satellite. It had not planned for the satellite – and only ordered it so it could place it in orbit and maintain rights to Galileo’s frequency allocations (see Back-up satellite to secure Galileo navigation system). When the current orbiting test craft Giove-A stops broadcasting Galileo signals in mid-2008 when its fuel runs out, the International Telecommunications Union can reassign the frequencies to others unless another craft replaces it. Originally, Galileo’s first four operational satellites (which have been ordered) were to have been in orbit by 2006 – but they have been pushed back to 2009 or beyond, not soon enough to maintain the frequencies. Another test craft, Giove-B, has suffered repeated onboard computer problems and is still grounded. If that craft can eventually launch, however, the newly ordered Giove-A2 satellite, which is funded by taxpayers, may remain grounded after all. “We need Giove-A2 because the situation has evolved. We don’t have the consortium’s contract signed and we don’t know who will take care of the operational Galileo satellites,” says ESA spokesman Dominique Detain. The EU, as major bankroller of the project, has had enough. Wolfgang Tiefensee, president of the EU’s Council of Transport Ministers under the current German presidency, is demanding to know when the consortium plans to incorporate a company, appoint a CEO and place firm orders for the Galileo satellite fleet. “The consortium must fulfil the conditions and obligations it agreed to in 2005,” says a spokesman for Tiefensee’s office. “We expect substantial progress by June.” Tiefensee is expected to reveal the industry’s response at a meeting of European Transport Ministers on 22 March. “We’ll see in the next couple of weeks how this pans out,” says Verhoef. But even if the consortium comes good, doubts remain over Galileo’s commercial viability. Russia is improving its global satnav fleet and will have 18 spacecraft in orbit by the end of the year. And China has said that it’s 30-satellite Beidou satnav network, originally intended for its military, will be an open system usable by anyone. Fears that China may be planning to go its own way on a satnav network – despite putting some seed money into Galileo – were heightened last week when its delegation failed to turn up at a key all-nations satellite positioning conference in Munich, Germany. The multinational consortium that the EU appointed to run Galileo in December 2005 comprises TeleOp (Germany), EADS Astrium (France/Germany), Inmarsat (UK), Thales (France), Aena (Spain), Finmeccanica (Italy),