Europe’s own GPS satellites ready for launch

A project to provide Europe with more reliable satellite navigation technology is nearing fruition after the European Commission (EC) announced that the first two satellite-navigation spacecraft are ready for launch.

The aircrafts passed a technical review at the weekend, ahead of their launch on a Russian Soyuz rocket on 20 October.

They are part of an EC project, called Galileo, which is a space-based navigation system created to reduce Europe’s reliance on the American global position system (GPS) and Russia’s GLONASS system. However, Galileo will be interoperable with the two systems.

The EC said that Galileo will give Europe independence in satellite navigation, which is particularly important given that it is a sector that accounted for around seven per cent of the EU GDP in 2009.

The Commission also claims that the billions of dollars it has invested in the system to date will be recouped as independent studies have shown that Galileo will deliver around $122bn (€90bn) to the EU economy over the first 20 years of operations. This will come in the form of direct revenues for the space, receivers and applications industries, as well as in the form of indirect revenues for society, such as more effective transport systems and more effective rescue operations.

Galileo’s interoperability with the two other systems means that its accuracy will also open the door to a host of new applications, such as locating people lost at sea with three metres accuracy, and making flights and landings safer.

The launch of the satellites will lead to the provision of three new satellite navigation services in 2014, by when 16 more satellites will be launched: The Open Service, an open and free of user charge signal; The Public Regulated Service, a navigation service using encrypted signals set up for better management of critical transport and emergency services and a Search And Rescue Service, an international satellite-based search and rescue distress alert detection system.

“This launch is of historical importance. Europe is demonstrating that it has the capability to be at the forefront of technological innovation,” said Antonio Tajani, European Commission vice-president in charge of industry and entrepreneurship. “Thousands of SMEs and innovators across Europe will be able to spot business opportunities and to create and develop their products based on the future Galileo infrastructure. Citizens will benefits from its services. Galileo is value for money and I count on Members States’ cooperation to find a solution for its financing.”

The third and fourth operational satellites will launch in the first half of 2012 and 14 more will be launched by 2014. The full system will consist of 30 satellites, control centres located in Europe and a network of sensor stations and uplink stations installed around the globe.

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