Europe’s global satellite navigation system, Galileo, moves a step closer on Wednesday with the launch of its first demonstrator spacecraft. Giove will be blasted into orbit by a Soyuz rocket from the European Space Agency’s base at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Costing nearly 4 billion euros in public and private finance, Galileo is the biggest space project ever undertaken in Europe.
It is the first satellite positioning and navigation system specifically designed for civilian purposes and will offer state-of-the-art services. Furthermore it will be inter-operable with the two other global satellite navigation systems – the American GPS and the Russian GLONASS,
But before any of that can be put to use, the demonstrator, built by Britain’s Surrey Satellite Technology, will test key components in the Galileo network, notably its atomic clocks. Galileo will not actually be up and running until 2010. But when it is available, users will be able to position themselves to within a metre. Lift off is scheduled for 6.19 am Central European Time.