Europe’s aim for an independent satellite navigation system will take a step closer in February when the partner companies are formally announced by the European Commission (EC). Each will receive a share of €40m devoted to R&D funding.

The chosen 11 firms will further develop the Galileo project – set to become Europe’s first and only global navigation satellite system (GNSS) – under the EC’s 7th research framework programme.

Up to now, GNSS users in Europe have had no alternative than to use the US’s GPS or Russian satellite signals. Yet military operators of these systems can give no guarantee that they can maintain uninterrupted service. Europe has been working on an independent system that is civilian controlled since the 1990s.

European GNSS supervisory authority executive director Pedro Pedreira says that the project is now gaining traction as it has finally received government and financial backing.

“The financial and political decisions that were needed have been taken. Procurement for Galileo is now on its way,” says Pedreira.

European geostationary navigation overlay service (EGNOS) – Europe’s pre-Galileo system – has now developed coverage for the majority of the European Union and is set to go live later this year.

Galileo is due to be fully operational in 2013 and will have satellites spread evenly around three orbital planes inclined at an angle of 56° to the equator. It will also be fully interoperable with the US’s GPS and Russia’s GLONASS signals.

EC director of maritime transport Galileo and Intelligent Transport Systems Fortis Karamitos says that both the EGNOS and Galileo projects fit well into the EC’s commitment to innovation during the financial downturn.

“In the current economic climate, these projects are very important to Europe. The EC is fully behind them,” he says.

Total EC investment in EGNOS and Galileo is €3.4bn. Although rumours abound as to which firms have been chosen to receive funding, the final decision can not be formally announced until all sections of the procurement process have been completed. The areas of involvement will likely cover system support, launch services and operations.

Easing of road-traffic congestion, better surveillance of commercial aircraft and more accurate monitoring of maritime vessels are some of the benefits that the European Union hopes to achieve through Galileo. Other advantages are set to be felt in the energy sector where marine seismic exploration will be enhanced.

By Natalie Coomber.