Europe’s own sat­nav sys­tem, Galileo, set to go live

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Paris

Seven­teen years and more than $11 bil­lion later, Europe’s Galileo sat­nav sys­tem is set to go live on Thurs­day, promis­ing to out­per­form US and Rus­sian ri­vals while boost­ing re­gional self-re­liance.

Ini­tial ser­vices, free to use world­wide, will be avail­able only on smart­phones and nav­i­ga­tion boxes al­ready fit­ted with Galileo-com­pat­i­ble mi­crochips.

Some de­vices may only need a soft­ware up­date to start us­ing the new tech­nol­ogy, and Euro­pean Com­mis­sion spokes­woman Mirna Talko said sev­eral smart­phone giants were al­ready mak­ing chips com­pat­i­ble with it.

“It will be the first time that users around the world will be able to be guided by Galileo satel­lites,” said Lucia Caudet of the Com­mis­sion, which funds the pro­ject.

Some­what fuzzy at first, the sig­nal will be boosted with help from satel­lites in the US mil­i­tary-run GPS sys­tem, grow­ing stronger over time as or­biters are added to the now 18-strong Galileo net­work cir­cling 23,222 kilo­me­ters above Earth.

Ac­cord­ing to its proud par­ents, the Com­mis­sion and Euro­pean Space Agency, Galileo should be fully op­er­a­tional by 2020, pro­vid­ing time and po­si­tion­ing data of un­prece­dented ac­cu­racy.

Safer driver­less cars

Such pre­ci­sion would also be in­valu­able for safer driver­less cars and nu­clear power plants, as well as bet­ter telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The civil-con­trolled ser­vice is also of great strate­gic im­por­tance for Europe, which re­lies on two mil­i­tary-run ser­vices — GPS and Rus­sia’s GLONASS, which pro­vide no guar­an­tee of un­in­ter­rupted ser­vice.

It will be in­ter­op­er­a­ble with these, but also com­pletely au­ton­o­mous.

“Hav­ing a sys­tem that is some­what in­de­pen­dent of the US sys­tem that is con­trolled by the mil­i­tary is prob­a­bly a good thing,” said Ge­orge Abbey, a se­nior fel­low in space pol­icy at Rice Univer­sity in Hous­ton, Texas.

This would be es­pe­cially per­ti­nent “if there were some con­flicts or dis­agree­ments ... that would cause the United States to have to limit GPS,” he said.

Named af­ter Ital­ian as­tronomer Galileo Galilei, the pro­ject would ul­ti­mately be an im­por­tant com­mer­cial ven­ture, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion said.

Al­most 10 per­cent of Europe’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct is thought to de­pend on satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion to­day — a fig­ure pro­jected to grow to about 30 per­cent by 2030.

By 2020, the com­mis­sion said, the global sat­nav mar­ket will be val­ued at $259 bil­lion.

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