EU satnav project ill-conceived: auditors court

June 29, 2009
A European Space Agency technician in Noordwijk works on the Giove B satellite, seen here in 2008, which was scheduled to be part of the Galileo network. Galileo has been ill-prepared and badly managed, the European Court of Auditors charged Monday.

The EU's much delayed satellite navigation network project Galileo has been ill-prepared and badly managed, the European Court of Auditors charged Monday.

"The programme lacked a strong strategic sponsor and supervisor: the (European) Commission did not proactively direct the programme, leaving it without a helmsman," the auditors' court opined after carrying out an audit of the ill-starred project.

As well as the commission -- the EU's executive arm -- the 27 member states came into criticism for promoting their own industries first and foremost.

"Owing to their different programme expectations, member states intervened in the interest of their national industries and held up decisions. The compromises made led to implementation problems, delays and, in the end, to cost overruns," the official auditors declared.

The 30-satellite network is meant to challenge the dominance of the US-built (GPS), which is widely used in in vehicles and ships. The EU aims to have it up in space by 2013.

The EU has struggled to secure financing for the project's budget, originally 3.4 billion euros (5.4-billion dollars) -- and has had to release unused funds from the bloc's massive agricultural budget.

The audit examined the factors in the failure of the concession process and for delays and cost overruns of technological development.

It concluded that the original public-private partnership plan was "inadequately prepared and conceived" not to mention "unrealistic".

The Galileo Joint Undertaking -- a body set up in 2003 and scrapped in 2006 -- was given the task of supervising Galileo's technological development activities but "was seriously constrained by governance issues, an incomplete budget, delays and the industrial organisation of the development and validation phase," the report said.

If the Galileo project is to succeed, the European Commission "must considerably strengthen its management of the programmes," the Court of Auditors said.

"Finally, should the EU resolve to engage in other large infrastructure programmes, the commission must ensure it has access to the appropriate management tools," it added.

The report makes grim reading for the European Commission not least because the Galileo programme was the first of its kind.

"We acknowledge that there were delays and cost overruns," a European Commission spokesman said.

"In hindsight things could always be done better... but we are happy to accept the recommendations of the court in order to be able to get on with the project," he added.

While unable to quantify the cost or time overruns, he said the first operational satellites should be launched next year.

The auditors' report said that the stalling of negotiations with private sector companies in 2007 means "technological development has been set back five years".

While test satellites have been launched none of Galileo's 30 operational satellites have been put in space yet.

The project was the first close collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the commission on such a large space programme, the first industrial programme to be managed at European level and the first time the commission was to participate in a public private partnership scheme.

(c) 2009 AFP

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1 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2009
Losers! WIth all the unemployed people in Europe projects get done at an ever slower pace. Like there is not room/land/space for development.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2009
They are not losers, they are industry-lobbying nationalist bastards. That's what you get when you try to make pan-European projects without the proper mindset. The article doesn't mention the problems with China over the frequency the satellites will use.
But Galileo will happen, one way or another.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2009
While I think it's silly to reinvent the wheel with satellite navigation (what's wrong with GPS?), I think it's important for European cohesion to get see the project to its end. A truly united Europe would be an excellent partner for America in almost every way: to be strong allies when needed and an equally strong voice of reason when we sometimes go off the reservation.

Good luck, guys!
3 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2009
what's wrong with GPS?

The US can deny service whenever they wish(e.g. times of war) and they can have service outages due to incompetence and economic difficulties.

According to the US Government Accountability Office:

"It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption."

Having only one GPS system is becomming unacceptable if we are to have automatic equipment rely on it(such as automatic combines). Ideally you'd have three systems controled by independent governments since you can do a simple majority vote to determine which system is in error; when/if China launches is Beiduo Navigation System we will have that.
not rated yet Jun 30, 2009

Umm the US could turn it off perhaps but that sort of screws everyone equally, perhaps they could encrypt the signal but once again that hits perhaps everyone but the military.

True the US is questioning funding for keeping the whole system operational doesn't that sort of lend itself to everyone chipping in to pay their part instead of "pirateing" free gps signal. Three entire gps systems just fills the sky with more trash making more difficult and dangerous for further space expeditions.

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