Brussels (AFP)

The European Commission announced on Wednesday that it had awarded a contract for 12 satellites to Thales Alenia Space and Airbus for 1.47 billion euros, for the next generation of the Galileo satellite positioning system.

"The first satellites of this second generation will be placed in orbit by the end of 2024," said the European executive in a statement.

The construction of six satellites has been awarded to Thales Alenia Space in Italy, the others to Airbus Defense and Space in Germany.

Following a call for tenders launched in May 2018, the two manufacturers won at the expense of the German OHB, which had won the contracts for the majority of Galileo's first generation satellites.

Thales Alenia Space and Airbus presented "the best technical and financial offers", justifies the Commission, which had delegated the study of the offers to the European Space Agency (ESA).

"We are surprised and disappointed not to have been selected in the call for tenders. From our point of view, we had submitted a competitive offer" reacted to AFP a spokesperson for OHB, according to whom "the economic consequences for OHB are limited".

The contracts must be signed by the end of the month.

The European commissioner in charge of space questions Thierry Breton announced last week an acceleration of the calendar, arguing of the need to "project Europe into the next technological races".

With this second generation, Galileo must remain "at the cutting edge of technology in relation to global competition" and contribute to Europe's strategic autonomy, according to the Commission.

The satellite positioning system is one of Europe's flagship programs in the space sector.

Its 26 satellites (30 in the long term) provide an alternative to the American GPS, Russian Glonass or Chinese Beidou systems.

Two more first-generation Galileo satellites are yet to be launched in the third quarter of 2021, according to the European Commission.

Galileo provides a satellite navigation and positioning service accessible to two billion users worldwide.

"With their new capacities based on high innovative technologies (...) these satellites will improve the accuracy of Galileo", underlines the Commission.

The second generation satellites will in fact be equipped with digitally configurable antennas, a link allowing the satellites to communicate with each other, new atomic clocks and fully electric propulsion, all of these innovations which should enable Galileo to "improve its precision and the robustness of its signal".

© 2021 AFP