EU Challenge to GPS to Be Launched

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission launched a procurement program on Tuesday for the bulk of its Galileo satellite project, which will include 30 satellites and is aimed at rivaling the U.S. Global Positioning System.

Galileo, Europe's biggest single space program, has been plagued by delays and squabbling over funding that ended only when the 27-nation EU agreed to funnel public money into it.

The procurement program is for 26 satellites and the remaining ground control infrastructure, a spokesman for the European Union's executive Commission said.

"The indicative value is around 2.1 billion euros ($3.3 billion) from a total budget of 3 billion euros for Galileo," the spokesman told a regular briefing.

Critics have labeled the system too expensive, despite commission arguments that it will create thousands of jobs and ensure independence from the U.S. service.

Contracts will be awarded by mid-2009 with the aim of deploying the satellites by 2013, the spokesman added.