A new era in satellite navigation has begun with the successful launch of a spacecraft for the Galileo system.
Cofinanced by the EU and the European Space Agency, the network will give Europe guaranteed access to a precise location and timing service, independent of the United States’ GPS. Professor Martin Sweeting of Surrey Satellite Technology, which built the craft, is thrilled: “We’ve got the first signals from the satellite in fact just after the separation, right on cue, we sent commands to the spacecraft and up popped the signal,” he said. “We were really pleased to see a good strong signal coming down, the initial telemetry all looks good, it’s really, really excellent,” he added. The military-run GPS is currently the only worldwide system offering services from driver assistance to search-and-rescue help. Costing some 3.6 billion euros, Galileo will offer more exact positioning, to within a metre. The EU and the US clinched a deal last year on making the two systems compatible. Galileo should consist of about 30 satellites by the time it is up and running in 2010. The satellite launched today will test key new technologies such as on-board atomic clocks, signal generators and user receivers.