Europe’s answer to GPS three times over budget and 13 years late

Satellite navigation is vital to many areas of the economy. [NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr]

Plagued by technical setbacks and delays, the European satellite navigation programmes, Galileo and EGNOS, will come in three times over budget at €13 billion, according to the French Court of Auditors. Our partner La Tribune reports.

A report published by the French Court of Auditors on Tuesday (26 January) found that Galileo and EGNOS (the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service), the European satellite navigation programmes, will cost the EU more than €13 billion over the period 1994-2020. The delayed projects were originally allocated a budget of €4.6 billion, according to the auditors.

Galileo alone will cost over €10 billion

Europe’s most emblematic space programme, Galileo, will cost a total of €10.2 billion. Half of this amount had already been spent by the end of 2013.

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The Court of Auditors blamed this spiralling cost on “a combination of technical setbacks, but also inadequate project management”. Equally, the cost of making EGNOS operational, at €700 million, is double the initial estimate.

When the programme was approved by the Council in 1999, Galileo’s planned date for becoming operational was in 2008. Today, 16 years after its launch, the project is scheduled for completion in 2021; a delay of 13 years. EGNOS, which currently works with the existing American GPS service, suffered six years of delays but was declared operational in 2009.

“Modest” promotion of civil applications

The Court of Auditors called on Europe to increase efforts to commercialise satellite services at both a national and a European level, to rectify the “modest” promotion of civil applications for the new tool.

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“The success of the new European infrastructure relies on the effective promotion of its potential uses, focussing on its advantages compared to GPS [the established American competitor]: signal authentication, high accuracy and faster connection times,” the auditors stated.

The global market for products and services linked to the satellite navigation is exploding, with growth of up to 30% per year, according to the European Commission. But the existence of GPS as a free competitor, which does not offer a commercial service, has forced the Galileo operators to “reduce their predictions for commercial revenue”.

It is currently estimated that 6-7% of the Union’s GDP relies on satellite navigation. On top of geo-location applications, satellite navigation systems enable the synchronisation of networks that are essential to the economy (communication, transport, data transmission, etc.).

Galileo will be able to host these applications on either its open (free) service or its commercial service.

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