PARIS –Europe’s Egnos system, which augments U.S. GPS and Russian Glonass satellite positioning and timing networks, is not expected to be operational before mid-2009 – at least two years late – and its delay threatens to reduce its value as a test bed for Europe’s future constellation of Galileo navigation satellites, European government officials said at a June 12 hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

These officials said Egnos appears to be performing better than expected in initial tests, but that its entry into operation is being slowed by last-minute certification procedures with European air-navigation authorities, and by the fact that European governments have yet to sign an agreement with an Egnos system operator.

In addition, it remains unclear whether Egnos users will benefit from any liability guarantees in case of a system failure that causes financial losses.

“We have raised this issue many, many times and we are still without a response,” said Raymond Russo, inter-ministerial coordinator for navigation systems for the French government, which on July 1 assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the 27-nation European Union (EU).

Russo said one of
‘s priorities during its EU presidency will be to put Egnos on track so that, by mid-2009, it is operational both technically and in terms of its management and maintenance structure.

is a network of several dozen ground terminals that link with small payloads on three geostationary-orbiting telecommunications satellites to augment the accuracy of positioning, navigation and timing signals from the U.S. GPS and Russian Glonass systems. Egnos, like the Wide-Area Augmentation System in the
United States
and the MTSAT satellite- based augmentation system in
, also verifies the accuracy of GPS signals and warns users of GPS anomalies.

is developing a similar system, called Gagan, or GPS-aided Geo-augmented navigation.

Total Egnos development and validation costs are estimated at around 350 million euros ($552 million).

was built by a team led by ThalesAlenia Space and was financed by the European Space Agency, Europe’s Eurocontrol air- traffic authority and the European Commission.

operations have been merged into the broader Galileo effort, which includes 30 medium Earth orbit satellites to be in service starting around 2013.

Government and industry officials have warned for more than a year that Egnos was at risk of being ignored in the long debate over Galileo’s management structure and financing. Both systems now are being financed by the European Commission.

Pedro Pedreira, executive director of the Galileo Supervisory Authority in Brussels, a European Union body created to help manage Galileo, said numerous large- scale Egnos demonstrations are being designed on the assumption that Egnos‘ open signal will be available starting in 2009, with certification for air traffic following in 2010.

The problem, Pedreira said, is that there is no agreement with an industrial consortium on how Egnos rights and responsibilities will be divided. The consortium will be responsible for maintaining and operating Egnos. The European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP) consortium was created in 2001 to manage Egnos, pending the signing of an operating contract.

With the quickening deployment of navigation devices, Egnos‘ delays mean the system has missed opportunities for revenue generation, industry officials said.

Stefan Sassen, managing director for navigation services at Astrium Services, a European company that specializes in commercializing applications using space-based infrastructure, said some 100,000 agricultural-industry machines now are equipped with satellite navigation terminals. Owners value the navigation-enabled services at 2,000 to 3,000 euros per year per terminal, he said.

The potential for maritime navigation, coastal and inland-waterway maintenance and railway maintenance in
is enormous, Sassen said.

Russo said the European Space Agency’s financial backing for Egnos ends in April 2009. “We need to insist on the importance of Egnos,” Russo said. “It is the first stage of
‘s GNSS [global navigation satellite system]. I am worried that not everyone understands how important the lessons of Egnos will be for Galileo.”