With less than a month to go before a key financial deadline, a dispute among departments of the British government threatens to compromise Britain’s role in Galileo, according to British government and industry officials.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has agreed to pay half of the 400 million euros ($510 million) in additional funding needed to complete the design and early development phase of Galileo, including the launch of four Galileo spacecraft and the deployment of most of the system’s ground network.

ESA has asked its member governments to commit to their pro rata shares of ESA’s 200 million euros in additional Galileo investment by Aug. 24 .

Britain is one of the four nations that since 2001 have battled to take a leading role in the program. France, Germany and Italy are the other three, with Spain not far behind. All originally insisted on staking out positions that were too large to accommodate the others, and ESA was obliged to turn away funding support to be able to fit all the contributing nations into the program.

Along with France, Germany and Italy, Britain was given a 17-percent stake in Galileo. To preserve their respective stakes, these nations each would need to provide 34 million euros in fresh funding by the Aug. 24 deadline.

But the British government has not yet signaled whether it is willing to commit this sum and also has not decided which ministry will be responsible for paying Britain’s Galileo contribution.

Neil Kinnock, a former European Transport Commissioner and now a member of the House of Lords, said in a July 25 conference on Galileo that Britain’s Department of Transport views Galileo as a space program, while the Department of Trade and Industry, which funds much of Britain’s space budget, sees Galileo as a transport program.

ESA’s partner in Galileo is the European Commission, whose transport ministers have taken responsibility for Galileo.

Pat Norris, deputy chairman of Britain’s space industry association, called UKspace, said during the July 25 meeting and in an Aug. 1 interview that Galileo contracts that normally would be given to British companies likely will go elsewhere if Britain does not maintain a Galileo stake equal to that of the other three major nations.

“Lord Kinnock is spot on here,” Norris said. “When you have multiple British government departments responsible for space spending, it becomes easier for programs to fall through the cracks. Each department plays a game of chicken, and sometimes no one blinks. This has happened in the past with other space programs.”

Galileo is a project whose total cost has been estimated at around 3.5 billion euros, about a third of which is being paid for by ESA and the European Commission. An industrial consortium is expected to sign a contract in early 2007 to manage Galileo’s deployment and operations as a commercial business, and this consortium will finance the remaining costs.

The July 25 conference, held in London at the Royal Institute of Navigation, also highlighted the continued lack of clarity over whether European militaries will be able to use Galileo’s encrypted, jam-resistant Public Regulated Service (PRS) signal.

Kinnock, who as European transport commissioner secured Galileo support from the European Union, said the program was always intended to be civilian.

Norris, a space program manager at LogicaCMG of London, said the British government’s position is that “PRS will not be available to military users.”

LogicaCMG is supplying part of Galileo’s security coding that Norris said eventually could identify each PRS user individually — whether it be an ambulance, a police helicopter or a missile — and shut off service to that user if necessary.

Norris conceded that not all European governments share the British view. A recent poll of 15 European Union nations found that all but two — Germany and Britain — would consider using PRS depending on its price.

French Defense Ministry officials have said it would be unacceptable to deny European military forces the same navigation and positioning system that will be available for Europe’s emergency-response services.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that in France and Italy, the police forces are part of the military corps.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how all this plays out,” Norris said.

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