PARIS (AP) — The first satellite in the European Union’s Galileo navigation program was launched from Kazakhstan on Wednesday, a major step forward for Europe’s answer to the U.S. Global Positioning System.
The Galileo satellite, named “Giove A,” took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz rocket. Journalists monitored the liftoff through a linkup at the European Space Agency headquarters in Paris.
The $4 billion Galileo project will eventually use about 30 satellites and end Europe’s reliance on the GPS system, which is controlled by the U.S. military.
Galileo will more than double GPS coverage, providing satellite navigation for people from motorists to sailors to mapmakers. In particular, Galileo is expected to improve coverage in high-latitude areas such as northern Europe.
In orbit, the satellite will test atomic clocks and navigation signals, secure Galileo’s frequencies in space and allow scientists to monitor how radiation affects the craft.
Galileo is under civilian control. The European Space Agency says it can guarantee operation at all times, except in cases of the “direst emergency.”
Galileo will also be more exact than GPS, with precision of about three feet, compared to about 16 feet with GPS technology, ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina said. With Galileo, for example, rescue services will be able to direct ambulances on which lane to use on the highway, he said.
A second satellite named “Giove B” is scheduled to be placed in orbit this spring. Two more satellites will then be launched in 2008 to complete the testing phase, which requires at least four satellites in orbit to guarantee an exact position and time anywhere on earth.
Consumers are expected to be able to buy Galileo receivers in 2008, and they will be able to switch back and forth between GPS and Galileo, similar to how people can change between cell phone networks now, Bonacina said.
Six non-EU nations — China, India, Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine — have joined the program set up by the European Commission and European Space Agency, and discussions are underway with other countries to take part.
The EU is to allocate an initial $1.2 billion from its 2007-2013 budget to fund deployment and commercial operations of the satellite system. The private sector will contribute two-thirds of the funds for the project, which is expected to create more than 150,000 jobs in Europe alone.
Last year, the EU and United States struck a deal to make Galileo compatible with the U.S. GPS system, ending a trans-Atlantic feud over the issue.
The Pentagon had initially criticized Galileo as unnecessary and a potential security threat during wartime, saying its signals could interfere with the next-generation GPS signals intended for use by the U.S. military.
Article from Space.com