A prototype of the UK ID card biometric database will be delivered by French firm Thales for £18m.
The defence contractor will design, build, test and operate an early version of the National Identity Register (NIR) and ID card application system for airport workers, which will go live from the second half of 2009.
The bill for the system has increased by £8m over previous estimates and the contract will run for four years.
The contract for the manufacture of the ID cards will be awarded to one of five companies short listed to deliver the ID card system at a later date.
The full version of the NIR, due to go live in 2011 in time for the roll out of the ID card system to the general public, will be awarded at a later date as a £500m contract—as will the £500m contract for the full application and enrolment system.
Airport workers' unions have raised concerns that their members are being used as guinea pigs for early versions of the ID card system.
But a spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service said the department had confidence in the system that would be fully functional by the second half of 2009.
He said: "This is why we have procured this part of the system first. We know how the final system is going to operate and this is not going to be any different from how it will be delivered."
A recent independent review of the ID cards scheme by the Biometrics Assurance Group suggested the system could struggle in capturing the fingerprints of up to four million people.
The spokesman said that both the NIR system for airport workers and the version developed by the UK Border Agency to provide foreign workers with ID cards by the end of 2008 would be integrated into the final version of the NIR in 2011.