Brussels, May 2003
The members of the European Space Agency (ESA) have reached an agreement on the funding contributions to Galileo, Europe's satellite navigation system, clearing the way for the official launch of the project.
The approval of the Joint Undertaking foundation, to be signed by ESA and the EU, was delayed after ESA member countries were unable to agree on the division of financial contributions. Those countries that invest more in the project will see higher returns in the form of contracts, and governments were therefore in the unusual situation of wishing to contribute more than was agreeable to their fellow ESA members.
The agreement will be finalised at the ESA ministerial council on May, and details are expected to emerge soon afterwards.
'This is a great day for Europe in general and its space community in particular,' said ESA Director General Antonio Rodotà, following the agreement. 'Conscious of the economic, industrial and strategic importance of satellite navigation, our Member States have reached agreement in the common interest. [...] Galileo is definitely a reality.'
The Joint Undertaking will have its headquarters in Brussels, and will be responsible for the development and validation phase as well as the preparations for systems deployment and operations. This will be the first project carried out jointly by ESA and the European Union.
Chair of the ESA ministerial council and German Minister for Education and Research Edelgard Bulmahn welcomed the news, which she believes signifies that 'Europe has once again proven to be able to remain at the forefront of high level technology for a programme useful to each of us in our everyday life.'
Ms Bulmahn also announced her intention to call for the restructuring and consolidation of European launchers at the meeting on May. The minister believes that the European aerospace industry must take more responsibility for the construction and operation of launchers so that, 'In the long term, public research investment should only go towards the development of new technologies.'
The consolidation of Europe's launchers should be achieved through the awarding of the contract for the production of the Ariane launching rocket to one company, believes Ms Bulmahn. 'We have to create competitive structures in a very hard fought market,' she said on 26 May.
Other issues for discussion at the meeting include the opening up of the European launch site in Kourou to the Russian launcher Soyuz, contributions to the development of the international space station (ISS) and collaboration between ESA and the EU.