Most of us now rely on a navigation system, be it in the car, on the mobile phone or on our home computer. The position system that we use these days is the Global Position System (GPS) which is a critical system for military and civilian uses. However, it is a system entirely controlled by the Americans and the American military institutions have the potential to take complete control of the system at any time.
This fact as urged other nations to develop similar systems, which are independent from the US military. The European Space Agency (ESA) has this created the idea of a European Position System with the code name Galileo.
Two new European Satellites started towards the earth orbit on October 21 and where transported into space by Russian Sojus Rokets at the European Space Harbour in Kourou in French-Guyana.
However, Galileo is not just supposed to be a competition for the American position system, it is also supposed to be much more accurate and help car navigation with a resolution of less than a meter. With that, technologies will be possible that unachievable with the GPS system nowadays. In particular automated car navigation will be possible, i.e. we may not need drivers anymore for long distance drives.
The countdown was postponed before, as the European Ariane Rocket showed a leak just before the start. Her Russian counterpart was chosen to ensure that nothing goes wrong when the first two satellites were lifted up into the orbit.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, the president of ESA and his Russian counterpart Wladimir Popowkin as well as the Russian vice president Sergej Iwanow and many MPs of the European Parliament were present at the start of the two satellites.
Galileo is a project financed by the ESA and the European member states. The headquarters of the project is in Prague/ Czech Republic.
Once operational, the system is supposed to offer five distinct services:
Open access navigation (timing and positioning down to 1 metre).
Commercial navigation (High precision to the centimetre; guaranteed service for which service providers will charge fees).
Safety Of life navigation (For applications where guaranteed precision is essential)
Public regulated navigation (Continuous availability even in time of crisis; Government agencies will be main users)
Search and rescue (System will pick up distress beacon locations; Feasible to send feedback, confirming help is on its way)
The project has been heavily critisised by the European public with its estimated costs of over 20 billion Euros for the project that was named after the famous Italian astronomer. Criticism also comes from the United States who fear that their military monopoly in terms of navigation systems is at stake.
However, the economic benefits for Europe of becoming independent of the GPS system as well as the improved technology heavily outweigh the costs.
Will Galileo be operational in 2014 as planned?
City Connect will follow the project closely and report.
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