Satellites of the European navigation system Galileo will be put into orbit by Russian Soyuz rockets.
Launch of the first one of the two experimental spacecraft is scheduled for late 2005 from the Baikonur cosmodrome, which Russia has leased from Kazakhstan for 49 years, the Moscow European Space Agency office has said on Tuesday.
The launches will be made within the framework of the agreement concluded between the Arianespace concern and the French-Russian company Starsem, engaged in the marketing of Soyuz rockets on the international space launch market, says the ESA official site.
The European satellite navigation system Galileo will become operational in 2008. The group is planned to be made up of 30 craft (27 basic and 3 stand-by), sitting in the orbits 23,616 kilometers high, as well as two ground-based control centres.
The first of the two experimental spacecraft was built by the British company Surrey Space Technology Ltd. The Soyuz-launched satellite will test orbital planes and communication frequencies for all the future Galileo craft.
The European navigation system Galileo will be a worthy rival for the American GPS system, which has in recent years become wide-spread among military and civilian users in many countries. Controlled by the Pentagon, the GPS determines coordinates at a 20-meter precision. Initially, the United States was against unfolding the Galileo system, saying that its signals will jam GPS operation. Recently, the European Union and the United States have agreed upon the joint use of radio communication frequency channels.
Russia has been deprived of the right to hold international competitions and apply for them for four years