European Union governments agreed Friday to jointly complete the development of the much-delayed Galileo satellite navigation project after mollifying Spain, which had demanded a bigger stake in the venture.
Spain was the lone holdout in a 26-1 vote at an EU meeting on moving ahead with the $5 billion undertaking.
In seeking unanimity, the EU later won Spain's approval with a deal that said a secondary ground station — planned for Spain to monitor emergency services on Galileo channels — may one day be a full-blown ground control station if Spain pays for that upgrade.
The European Commission set a Dec. 31 deadline for final approval of the satellite program. When completed, by 2013, it is expected to rival the American global positioning system, which also is satellite-based.
On Nov. 23, EU governments agreed to a taxpayer bailout for the project, several months after a consortium of private companies walked away from it in a financing dispute.
Most of the $3.5 billion needed to complete Galileo will come from unused EU farm funds.
In an 11th-hour move Friday, Spain demanded a ground control station as part of the network of 30 satellites that will beam navigation signals to earth. The Galileo program had only foreseen two: one near Munich and another near Rome.
The Netherlands and Sweden have also had reservations about the merit of using EU funds for Galileo.
EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot welcomed the agreement of EU governments to bear the costs of the Galileo program.
"The agreement ... will allow Europe to have its own satellite navigation system by 2013," he said.
After the private sector abandoned Galileo this year, the European Commission drafted contracting rules to ensure large and small companies in many EU nations can benefit from the construction of the Galileo program.
Germany, the biggest contributor to the EU budget, pays the most toward Galileo, and companies based there will benefit proportionately, officials said.
The rules divide Galileo contracts into six segments covering various stages of the project. No single company can be the prime contractor for more than two segments.
The project stalled after a group of eight private companies from France, Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy tasked with developing it disagreed on how to share the work.
At least $1.48 billion in public funds has already been spent on it. Of the funding still needed, $2.4 billion will come from leftover agriculture funds and the rest from research, transport and administration budgets.
Galileo — which would be interoperable with the U.S.'s 24-satellite GPS — would more than double existing GPS coverage, providing navigation for people from motorists to pilots to emergency rescue teams. It would improve coverage in high-latitude areas such as northern Europe, and in big cities where skyscrapers can block signals.
Galileo would also be more exact than GPS, with precision of up to 1 meter, about 3.3 feet, compared with 5 meters with GPS technology.
Only one of Galileo's satellites has been launched, in December 2005. The second satellite missed its launch date toward the end of 2006 after it short-circuited during final testing.