The European Commission yesterday handed three companies a €1bn satellite contract for the Galileo, Europe's version of the Global Positioning System developed in the US.
The Commission awarded three of the six contracts to get the Galileo project off the ground. Germany's OHB System has won the first order of 14 satellites, with system support services handed to ThalesAleniaSpace of Italy.
France's Arianespace has won the contract to launch the satellites, with the first scheduled to launch in October 2012. It hopes that the initial launch of 14 satellites will see Europe's satellite navigation system go live by as early as 2014. It expects to launch 30 programmes in total.
The contracts will be signed between the companies and the European Space Agency (ESA), on behalf of the Commission in the next few weeks. The ESA kicked off the procurement process in July 2008, with contracts awarded on the basis of "best value for money".
Antonio Tajani, in charge of transport at the Commission, said: "With this and the upcoming awards for the remaining procurement packages, we are concluding a critical phase of the Galileo programme.
"We can now focus on the actual roll-out and demonstrate to European citizens that Europe's own satellite navigation system is firmly underway," he added.
The Galileo initiative is designed as Europe's "state-of-the-art global satellite navigation system, providing a highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning service under civilian control".
It will provide navigation and positioning services and will work with GPS and GLONASS, Russia's equivalent operation. "The availability of a European navigation system will also ensure that Europe does not need to rely on other regions, avoiding the economical, social and political risks inherent to such a dependency," the Commission said.