Saturday, August 23, 2014

Europe launches navigation satellites to rival GPS

Two satellites for Europe's Galileo navigation system - a rival to the American GPS - were successfully launched on Friday from Kourou in French Guyana, bringing the number of orbiters in the system to six.

The Galileo constellation is designed to give a competitive alternative to both the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia's Glonass.

By the end of the decade, the system will cost Europe around 10 billion euros once operational and comprise 27 satellites orbiting earth at different altitudes.

French aerospace expert Philippe Baumard said the project would ultimately give Europe a significant strategic and economic edge.

“We’re getting there a bit late, but when it is up and running it will be a far better system than GPS,” Baumard, who is chief scientist at France's High Council for Strategic Education and Research, told FRANCE 24 on Friday.

“It has much better precision and the 10 billion euro price tag will be very cost effective,” he said, adding that Galileo represented a massive step forward from GPS which is “based on Cold War technology”.

One advantage of Galileo over GPS and Glonass, Baumard explained, is that having satellites orbiting at different altitudes will allow the system to pinpoint altitude – which GPS can’t do – bringing huge benefits to the global aerospace industry.

Galileo will also allow people to use connected devices within buildings, he said, leading to the development of new commercial applications, “although precisely what these will be has yet to be established”.

Less reliance on US satellite intelligence

Europe will finally have its own military satellite capabilities, Baumard added, bringing an end to the West’s reliance on US satellite intelligence.

“In conflicts we always have to rely on American satellite imagery,” Baumard explained. “They don’t release those images unless it is completely in their own interests. All that is going to change.”

Four Galileo satellites have already been launched – two in October 2011 and a second pair a year later.

The launch of the latest two orbiters, dubbed SAT 5 and SAT 6, had been delayed for over a year due to what the European Space Agency (ESA) described as "technical difficulties in the setting up of the production line and test tools".

Arianespace said Thursday it had signed a deal with the ESA to launch 12 more satellites "from 2015 onwards".

The ESA has previously said that 18 satellites should be able to provide initial navigation services to users "by mid-decade", with full services "scheduled for 2020".

In March last year, the ESA said Galileo's first four test satellites had passed a milestone by pinpointing their first ground location with an accuracy of between 10 and 15 metres.

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