By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is set to send two navigation satellites into orbit on Friday aboard a Russian rocket, in its first launch since a botched deployment in August that cost several million euros to fix.
The Galileo project to set up an EU alternative to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) is obliged to use the Russian Soyuz system until a development of Arianespace's European Ariane 5 rocket is ready around the end of the year, despite strained relations with Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.
Fault for the last two satellites being set in the incorrect orbit after their launch from the European space center in French Guyana was placed on a defect in a Russian-built module.
An official at the European Commission, which oversees the program, said the EU executive was tendering for insurance cover for future satellites and had set up an insurance scheme for the launches.
Hitherto, satellites and launches have been uninsured to keep down costs on a project dogged by delays, money problems and questions over the need for a European alternative to GPS. China and Russia are also working on systems.
Friday's launch from Kourou is scheduled for 1746 EDT. If successful, it will bring to eight the number of Galileo satellites deployed out of a planned total of 30. The two launched in August have since been nudged into viable orbits and are fit for use, a spokesman for the European Space Agency said.
That cost several million euros and the Commission is expected to decide next month whether to make use of those two -- a decision that would require further spending to adapt equipment on the ground to cope with their new orbit routes.
Two further two-satellite launches are planned this year, making it possible to put the Galileo system into partial service next year. Full service is planned for 2020.
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Mark Potter)