Government Hails Recession-Busting European GPS-Rival Contracts

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A UK company has won the contract to create a European rival to GPS, but the satellites themselves are to be built by a German manufacturer in Bremen

A contract awarded to a UK company for the long-awaited European rival to GPS will help boost the space industry and have ramifications for the whole economy, the government has claimed.

Commenting on the news late last week, that Surrey-based satellite manufacturer SSTL has been granted one of the initial contracts to build the long-awaited European Galileo satellite network, Science and Innovation minister Lord Drayson said the deal was a boost for the UK space industry.

“This is great news for Surrey-based satellite manufacturer SSTL and the British space industry,” said Drayson. “The contract for 14 satellites will provide approximately €236m (£212m) of work for SSTL and cement their position as key player in this booming industry.”

But despite the government’s hailing of the Galileo contract-win as a source of national pride, SSTL was actually awarded the contract in partnership with a German manufacturer OHB Systems AG with the actual satellites due to be constructed in Bremen.

The European Space Agency (ESA) says it has been working to develop Galileo since 1990s as an alternative to the US GPS and Russian GLONASS system, which European authorities claim they have no control over. “Satellite positioning has already become the standard way of navigating. If the signals were switched off tomorrow, many ship and aircraft crews would find it inconvenient and difficult to revert to traditional navigation methods,” the ESA states.

Growth in the UK’s space industry should help boost the wider economy as the UK is increasingly recognised for its high-tech skills-base, said Drayson. “It is these high-tech sectors which are bucking the trend during the recession, creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. Looking ahead, our space industry is forecast to grow on average by about 5 percent a year until 2020. This new contract will strengthen its position further.”

The European Commission announced three of six Galileo contacts late last week. System support services were awarded to Italy’s ThalesAleniaSpace, while OHB Systems AG of Germany together with SSTL were contracted to build 14 satellites, with Arienspace of France contracted to support the launch of the network.

“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,” said Antonio Tajani, European Commission vice-president in charge of transport.

According to the EC, the development of the Galileo network will consist of two phases. The first in-orbit validation phase, set for November this year, will involve testing four satellites and the related ground systems. The full launch phase – or full operational capability (FOC) phase – will see the launch of 14 satellites initially, working up to 30 satellites eventually when the system is completed, the EC said.


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