Galileo, Europe's rival to the US's GPS navigation system, is gearing up to launch its third and fourth satellites into space on Friday.
An Arianspace Soyuz rocket carrying the UK-built payload is scheduled to take off at 3:15pm local time (7:15pm in the UK) on Friday from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The lift-off comes a couple of weeks later than the 28 September rocket launch promised in May, but the Galileo programme is still on track to provide its first navigation services in 2014, the European Commission said on Thursday.
Once the new additions are in orbit, the Galileo constellation will undergo validation and fine tuning, to get ready for another 22 satellites scheduled to join it in 2013. The European Commission has said that it will increase the frequency of launches next year.
With Galileo, Europe is aiming to provide a civilian-controlled alternative to GPS, but with more precision and reliability as to the exact position of the user in time and space. The commission wants a piece of a satellite navigation market that it estimates to be worth €125bn (£77bn) right now, and predicts will reach €244bn by 2020.
"Galileo provides a real opportunity for businesses producing satellite-based products and applications," European Commission vice president Antonio Tajani said in a statement. "European industry should be ready to seize a vast market which is there for the taking."
The European system is designed to be compatible with GPS, and some services provided over Galileo will be interoperable with the US system, according to the European Commission. These services include a freely available open service, for use in in-car navigation systems, for example; a public regulated service, for first responders such as police and ambulance; a search and rescue service, for maritime emergencies, among others; a safety of life service, for aviation; and a fee-based commercial service, for mapping and surveying providers, for example.
So far, the development of Galileo has cost €2.4bn, with two-thirds of that cost borne by the European Commission. Deployment is also expected to come to €2.4bn, wholly provided from the EU's budget.
Some of that cash has come to the UK, as the satellites were built by EADS company Astrium in its facilities here.
"The satellite payloads, responsible for emitting the signals, were designed, developed and manufactured by a team at Astrium's Portsmouth facility," Astrium spokesman Jeremy Close told ZDNet.