Sunday, March 25, 2007

Galileo Crashes and Burns

Our College of Cardinals has a great post discussing the EU's navigational satellite program, Galileo. Predictably, it's in financial trouble.

Galileo is supposed to be a competitor for GPS. The idea is that they would launch the satellite constellation and then sell access to it for navigation purposes. The problem is that their competition is giving that away for free. When I first heard about Galileo, I thought it was a joke. I mean, what idiot would try to sell something that was freely available? That would be like my daughter and her friends opening up a water stand on the street corner in the summer instead of selling lemonade. Tiny American capitalist that she is, she would figure that one out pretty quickly.

The EU, steeped in socialism, isn't so prescient. Here's a tidbit for you.

The Spanish government wants to be guaranteed more jobs through the construction of a third control centre located in Spain, to be added to those currently under construction in Germany and Italy.
Satellite constellations have as few control centers as possible. The distance between control centers is based on the satellites' "footprint" or coverage area of the Earth. Each Galileo satellite, orbiting at roughly 12,000 miles, will be able to see the whole of Europe. Even assuming that control of it is done through a high-gain antenna whose spot beam is much smaller, Spain, Italy and Germany are too close together to warrant each having a control center. Control centers, like the satellites themselves, are expensive. Only a total idiot would build more than they need.

The result? After the initial flood of government spending, there's a rush to the door.

(EU Transport Commissioner Jacques) Barrot hit out at “selfish” member states holding back progress on Galileo, warning that the project could fall hostage to national interests, like troubled aircraft-maker Airbus in its “worst moments”. “I hear that some member states have started to ask for their money back,” he said. It would be an important step towards recovery, according to Barrot, for member states to confirm that they would participate in the community project.
I wouldn't invest in this boondoggle. If asked to by Mr. Barrot, I would produce my little GPS receiver and say, "I got mine, Jacques."


Kelly the little black dog said...

Don't you think each member state simply saw their participation as a way to get EU pork for their home countries. In that case good business sense doesn't come into the equation.

K T Cat said...

Kelly, you hit the nail right on the head. Politicians make decisions for political reasons. They are paid in votes, so they can hardly be expected to try and maximize profit.