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India may join EU Galileo Pact

India may launch formal negotiations on participating in Europe’s Galileo satellite programme. An announcement of political intent is expected during New Delhi’s summit with Brussels here next month.

Last month, Beijing initialled an agreement to participate in this ambitious 30-satellite constellation. Galileo is due for completion in 2008. Europe has pegged it as “vital for the future of our high-tech industries and crucial for the world to have a choice independent of the current US GPS monopoly.” The EU-China summit begins on October 31.

“India’s membership of the Galileo project may be one of the important outcomes of the New Delhi summit,” head of the delegation of the European Union Michel Caillouet told FE. The ambassador did not elaborate on financial details involved in the membership of this programme. The Wall Street Journal has estimated that Beijing’s expected down payment is over $200 million. “This will provide an alternative source of precision location signals for targeting its weapons,” WSJ said in a commentary last week. It warned against the military agenda behind Shenzou V and argued against inevitable calls for greater American and European cooperation with China in space.

Both EU and the European Space Agency point out that Galileo and a worldwide network of ground stations are specifically designed for civilian purposes like safe and efficient transport (air, rail, maritime, road, pedestrian), engineering, environment, search and rescue, even recreation. The ground segment includes regional and local components, distributed all over the world, to enhance the services by means of terrestrial radio links or existing communication networks. This, they say, can provide extra accuracy around airports, harbours, railheads and urban areas.

The Indian Space Research Organisation is finalising the technical evaluation of a satellite navigation and positioning regional programme called Gagan. This is similar to the European Egnos, a precursor of Galileo using augmented signals from the US GPS.