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U.K. lawmakers skeptical about Europe GPS project

Government committee calls for U.K. to suspend its involvement in controversial Galileo project until review has been completed.

A committee of Parliament members has called for a full review of the U.K.'s involvement in the European Galileo satellite-network project.

In a statement released on Monday, Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairperson of the Transport Sub-Committee in Parliament, said that it would be "folly" for the U.K. to pursue the project until a review is completed.

The cost of Galileo was planned to be $4.38 billion but the Transport Sub-Committee believes that this could spiral to $20.73 billion.

The European Commission "is poised to spend billions in taxpayers' money on a satellite system, without any realistic assessment of its costs and benefits," Dunwoody said. "We must have independent and up-to-date evidence that proceeding with Galileo is worthwhile."

Full development of a network of 30 satellites, to act as a replacement for or supplement to the satellite networking supporting the U.S.'s own Global Positioning System, has already slipped from a planned completion date of 2008 to 2013 and could be delayed longer and go millions over budget. The U.K. is one of a number of European countries that make up the Galileo consortium.

But Septentrio, a satellite-navigation company based in Ghent, Belgium, is promoting the technology as a supplement to the U.S. GPS system, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Defense and includes a constellation of 24 satellites. As Septentrio's chief executive and founder, Peter Grognard, pointed out at a meeting with the press last week, "GPS alone gives access to signals from four or five satellites, and Galileo possibly seven, but, with both signals available, you can access up to 12." This makes the signal much more reliable, he said.

The solution offered by Septentrio is to create a processor that integrates with GPS and Galileo for use in navigation systems such as those used in cars and other vehicles.

Along with others in the satellite community, Grognard had been lobbying Dunwoody and other U.K. MPs in the Transport Sub-Committee. He said that Dunwoody had "listened" to what he had to say, but would not elaborate upon that.

The issue now for the European satellite community is: if the U.K. stalls its involvement in Galileo, that may, combined with indifference from countries like Germany, kill the project altogether.

Grognard believes that, whatever the reservations of the committee of MPs, Galileo comes at a modest price. "We are talking about 1.5 euros (about $2.20) for each European citizen for the next four years, and that represents very good value for the money," Grognard said.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.