Europe’s global satellite-navigation system, Galileo, has moved a step closer with this morning’s launch of its first demonstrator spacecraft.
It was taken into orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket that launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Galileo is the biggest space project ever undertaken in Europe, and is a joint private and public initiative. Using a network of 30 satellites, it is specifically designed for civilian purposes, unlike the American GPS system. The demonstrator launched today and another next year will be testing crucial in-orbit technologies, notably the atomic clocks. Galileo will not be up and running until 2010. When it is available, users will be able to position themselves to within a metre. Galileo will underpin Europe’s new air traffic control system.