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India, EU close to agreement on Galileo project

India and the European Union appear to be closer to an agreement on joint participation in the EU’s ambitious 1.1 billion euro Galileo satellite navigation project.

A joint statement to be issued at the end of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent summit talks with EU leaders indicates narrowing of differences.

“We welcome the progress in the ongoing discussion in the EU-India draft cooperation agreement on the Galileo satellite navigation project. It will ensure India’s equitable participation in Galileo space, ground and user segments and will guarantee the availability of highest quality signals over the Indian territory,” a draft of the joint statement obtained by IANS says.

It also referred to the “very mature space programmes” of both sides and noted they had a history of working together through the European Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The draft statement says the EU also expressed its interest in India’s unmanned lunar exploration mission Chandrayan -1, though Indian officials said their EU counterparts thought that there was no meaning in spending money on such a project as the US had already landed man on the moon over three decades ago.

India had pledged 300 million euros for the project, that has been conceived as an alternative to GPS of the US, a worldwide radio navigation system.

China has pledged 200 million euros for the Galileo project, named after the 16th century astronomer and physicist and which is expected to be operational by 2008.

According to estimates, Galileo will have some 400 million users by 2015 and create 100,000 jobs. The system will help rescue services pinpoint a driver’s exact location in the event of an accident and allow navigation through an unfamiliar city using mobile phones.

“If we are putting in 300 million euros we must have a say in the control of the satellite,” a senior official told IANS. “If we don’t have access to their codes we can be denied access to Galileo’s signals in times of war,” he said. Though the EU had assured such denial would occur only if there was a “global war,” India is not convinced.

“How do we know what is their definition of a global war. They can term an India-Pakistan war as global, saying it has nuclear connotations,” the official said.

New Delhi had announced its decision to support the EU project in the wake of the US war against Iraq in which the GPS was used extensively. The GPS was developed mainly for military use and is under the exclusive control of the US.

Apart from the strategic objectives, India sees in the Galileo project an opportunity to showcase its prowess in space technology. A number of Indian private companies involved in the country’s space programme had also shown keen interest in participating in the Galileo project, officials said.

According to officials, the department of space has already planned linking Galileo to its own proposed Gagan project, a low earth orbiting satellite that will help boost signals from Galileo.

–Indo-Asian News Service