Europe’s own sat­nav, Galileo, due to go live

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Seven­teen years and more than 10 bil­lion Eu­ros ($11 bil­lion) later, Europe’s Galileo sat­nav sys­tem is set to go live Thurs­day, promis­ing to out­per­form US and Rus­sian ri­vals while boost­ing re­gional self-re­liance.

Ini­tial ser­vices, free to use world­wide, will be avail­able only on smart phones and nav­i­ga­tion boxes al­ready fit­ted with Galileo­com­pat­i­ble 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 (14,430 miles) above Earth.

Ac­cord­ing to its proud par­ents, the Com­mis­sion and Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA), Galileo should be fully op­er­a­tional by 2020, pro­vid­ing time and po­si­tion­ing data of un­prece­dented ac­cu­racy. “GPS al­lows a train to know which area it is in-Galileo will al­low it to iden­tify the track it is on,” ac­cord­ing to Jean-Yves Le Gall, pres­i­dent of France’s CNES space agency, one of ESA’s 22 coun­try mem­bers.

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 ser­vicesGPS 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,” ex­plained 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 told AFP. Named af­ter Ital­ian as­tronomer Galileo Galilei, the project was first ap­proved with an ini­tial bud­get of around three bil­lion Eu­ros and plans to be op­er­a­tional by 2008. But it has suf­fered sev­eral tech­ni­cal and bud­getary set­backs, in­clud­ing the launch of two satel­lites into the wrong or­bit in 2014. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion ex­pects the project will ul­ti­mately be an im­por­tant com­mer­cial ven­ture. 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, says the com­mis­sion, the global sat­nav mar­ket will be val­ued at about 244 bil­lion eu­ros.

Bil­lionth of a sec­ond

Galileo it­self is ex­pected to add some 90 bil­lion Eu­ros to the EU econ­omy in its first 20 years. The sys­tem’s ground­break­ing ac­cu­racy is the re­sult of best atomic clocks ever flown for nav­i­ga­tion-one per satel­lite-ac­cu­rate to one sec­ond in three mil­lion years. A mere bil­lionth-of-a-sec­ond clock er­ror can mean a po­si­tion­ing er­ror of up to 30 cen­time­ters (12 inches). Galileo also has more satel­lites than ei­ther GPS or GLONASS, and bet­ter sig­nals which carry more in­for­ma­tion.

With th­ese fea­tures, Galileo’s free Open Ser­vice will be able to track po­si­tions to within a me­ter (3.3 feet), com­pared to sev­eral me­tres for GPS and GLONASS. Its sig­nal will even­tu­ally reach ar­eas where none is pos­si­ble today-in­side traf­fic tun­nels and on roads where high build­ings shield ra­dio waves from some satel­lites. A pay­ing ser­vice will al­low clients to track lo­ca­tions even closer, to within cen­time­ters, and gov­ern­ments will have ac­cess to an en­crypted con­tin­ued ser­vice for use in times of cri­sis.

An­other key fea­ture is a ser­vice al­low­ing res­cuers to lo­cate peo­ple lost at sea or in the moun­tains much faster than be­fore. Cur­rently, sat­nav tech­nol­ogy can take up to three hours to track a per­son to within a 10kilo­me­tre (six-mile) range.

“With Galileo’s Search and Res­cue Ser­vice, the de­tec­tion time is re­duced to 10 min­utes and the lo­cal­iza­tion is re­duced to less than five kilo­me­ters,” Caudet told AFP. Satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion works by ul­tra-pre­cise clocks in or­bit broad­cast­ing their time and po­si­tion to Earth via ra­dio waves trav­el­ling at the speed of light.

Any­one with a re­ceiver can com­bine data from at least three satel­lites to de­ter­mine their po­si­tion, speed and lo­cal time on Earth. —AFP

WASH­ING­TON: In this June 3, 2015 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama talks with chil­dren who par­tic­i­pated in events with the “Let’s Move!” cam­paign af­ter pre­par­ing and eat­ing food har­vested from the White House Kitchen Gar­den, in the East Room at the White House. —AP

KOUROU, French Guiana: This file photo taken on Novem­ber 17, 2016 shows a hand­out re­leased on Novem­ber 17, 2016 by the Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA), the Cen­ter na­tional d’etudes spa­tiale (CNES, the French gov­ern­ment space agency) and the Ari­anes­pace satel­lite launch com­pany shows the Ari­ane 5 rocket with a pay­load of four Galileo satel­lites lift­ing off from ESA’s Euro­pean Space­port. —AFP

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