Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Galileo, Galileo, Mamma Mia Let Me Go

What seems to be the problem, Mr. Jacques Barrot, EU Transport Commissioner? Why is Europe not poised to take the lead in outer space?

The parties involved can't agree? No surprise there, son. The proposed partnership between aerospace companies and governments didn't have the necessary patina of success that private companies look for. Businesses don't undertake projects that will lose them money, no matter how grand and glorious the goal may be. Go on, now, just hand the whole thing off to the EU and bill the taxpayers.

What kind of costs are we talking here? Eu400 million, you say? Or possibly higher. And that's the equivalent of 400 km of motorway. So if Europe doesn't build 400 km of motorway per year, they can take the money and fund the Galileo project? And then once Galileo satellites are up and orbiting, the revenue will come rolling in and one fine day the Galileo project will be making money for the EU.

Sure, why let the US have all the income from their GPS satellites. Who needs an American satellite to tell them where they are in Europe? Wouldn't a European satellite do a better job? If the private concerns had felt a bit stronger on the principle of the thing, Galileo would be operational by 2009, as originally planned. Now it's to be pushed back to 2012. Assuming, of course, that some fancy-pants American engineers don't invent a better system by then, making the Galileo project outdated before launch. The US is upgrading their system as it is, and it will most likely be as accurate or better than Galileo by the time Galileo is ready.

For three years, the individual member states of the EU argued over who would be in charge of the project, and then they argued over which country's factories would make the satellites. Once that was ironed out, wouldn't you know that the Spanish would put in for a control center in their country, and Germany already had two of them so it was a bit redundant.

All this squabbling, and Mr. Barrot is a nervous wreck. Everyone has become so highly dependent on America's GPS, but the Yanks could turn it off at any time. And the way European nations keep denigrating the President and the Republicans and Americans in general, well, it's only a matter of time before Europe really ticks them off and GPS screens across Europe go black.

Mr. Barrot can try an appeal to national pride, but he might try appealing to the US to start charging for GPS. When America gives it away for free to commercial users, it makes it awfully difficult for the EU to charge for Galileo's services. It's that whole 'why buy the cow when the milk is free' analogy.

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