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Europe Agrees to Launch Galileo Space Program

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Europe Agrees to Launch Galileo Space Program

Mon May 26,12:32 PM ET

By Noah Barkin

PARIS (Reuters) - European governments agreed on Monday to launch the long-delayed Galileo space program, seen as a potential rival to the U.S. military's GPS global satellite positioning system.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement that an agreement had been reached among its member states -- Norway, Switzerland and the 15 European Union countries excluding Greece and Luxembourg -- which finalizes the conditions of their participation in the project.

The Galileo system, which would be built around 30 satellites occupying three circular earth orbits and generate an estimated 140,000 jobs, has been criticized as redundant by officials in the United States.

ESA says Galileo, which is scheduled to be operational by 2008, will be a "civil" system and complement existing U.S. GPS.

"The European Space Agency is now able to finalize the conditions for participation in the Galileo navigation program and to approve the Galileo joint undertaking foundation act to be soon signed by ESA and the European Union," ESA said in a statement. -

The EU's executive arm has said the Galileo program is essential to securing Europe's presence in the space industry and is also expected eventually to offer profitable services in global positioning for transport, leisure and security applications.

But the project has run into repeated delays, initially due to skepticism on the part of Britain, Germany and Netherlands about the need for Galileo, and later because of squabbles between states within ESA, the non-EU body which coordinates European space ventures.

For much of the past year the project was held up as Italy and Germany vied for influence. More recently, Spain had opposed a deal between Germany and Italy that would have diminished the Spanish stake in the program.

"Conscious of the economic, industrial and strategic importance of satellite navigation, our member states have reached agreement in the common interest," said ESA Director General Antonio Rodota in the statement.

The so-called Galileo joint undertaking, to be headquartered in Brussels, will now assume responsibility for the development and validation phases of the project and also for preparations for system deployment and operations.

Galileo is the first instance of a project carried out jointly by ESA and the European Union.

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