A row over funding is threatening the future of the Galileo satellite constellation, according to the head of the Italian space agency (ASI).
In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt, Sergio Vetrella warns that if the dispute, ostensibly about additional costs, but possibly having more to do with national pride, is not settled by the end of the month, the whole project could be in jeopardy.
Galileo is a European satellite navigation project designed to provide a civilian-controlled alternative to the US' Global Positioning System. The system promises better resolution than GPS, and is due to switch on in 2008.
The project is being funded partly by European governments and partly by private enterprise, and the next phase of the project, starting in 2006, needs additional public funds of around €430m.
But, Reuters reports, Vetrella says the Germans are delaying contributing their share to boost their bid to house the Galileo project control centre in Munich. Naturally, Italy would prefer that the control centre is in Italy, France is keen on a French location, while Spain thinks it would be best off in Spain.
If an agreement cannot be reached by the end of October, the schedule for the whole project will slip, leading to a bigger bill at the end, Vetrella concludes.
Potential uses for the system already being discussed range from standard satellite navigation for motorists, through tracking fish stocks to help fishermen in the developing world, to proposals in the UK to rejig the entire car tax system around tracking individual drivers' road use. ®