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