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EU ministers back Galileo

European Union ministers have given their backing to launch the deployment and operational phases of a multi-billion-euro satellite navigation system meant to rival a major US version and create jobs.

EU transport ministers supported pressing ahead with the Galileo system, though a final decision on the 25-nation bloc’s financial contribution to the project has yet to be made.

A rival to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), Galileo is designed to reduce Europe’s dependence on the United States in space. It is scheduled to become operational in 2008 with a planned system of 30 satellites.

Like the GPS, it is designed for civilian applications such as communications and transport – like helping car drivers with electronic maps on their dashboards or assisting in search and rescue operations.

According to the EU’s executive Commission, Galileo’s deployment phase from 2006-2008 is estimated to cost 2.1 billion euros ($US2.79 billion), with two-thirds of the funding from private sector sources and one-third from public funds.

Deployment involves building and launching satellites and ground receiving stations. The development phase, which began in 2002 and ends next year, is to cost 1.1 billion euros.

The Commission has proposed a 1 billion euro contribution from the EU’s budget to help finance the project. This is seen as a sign to industry of the EU’s backing in what will be a public-private partnership.

The Commission said transport ministers’ backing for the next stages created a strong signal to finance minister colleagues, who will make related budget decisions next year.