The European Commission Thursday handed out over €1 billion (US$1.4 billion) in contracts to build and launch the first 14 satellites of Galileo, Europe's answer to GPS.
Germany's OHB System and SSTL of the U.K. will build the satellites in a contract worth €566 million and Arienspace of France will launch them for €397 million using Russian Soyuz rockets.
ThalesAleniaSpace of Italy will supply system support for €85 million, the Commission said in a statement.
All remaining procurement contracts, for the ground mission infrastructure, the ground control infrastructure and the operations should be awarded by mid-2010 and the system is due to become operational in early 2014, it said. The constellation may eventually include up to 32 satellites.
"With this and the upcoming awards for the remaining procurement packages, we are concluding a critical phase of the Galileo program," Antonio Tajani, the European Commissioner in charge of transport, told journalists Thursday. "We can now focus on the actual roll-out and demonstrate to European citizens that Europe's own satellite navigation system is firmly under way," he added.
Galileo will initially offer services including an open service for GPS-type purposes and a search and rescue service. It promises to be more accurate and reliable than the GPS, which can be shut down to the general public and commandeered by the US government for military purposes during a conflict.