Europe comes closer to its own GPS

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By Catherine Hardy
Europe comes closer to its own GPS

Europe has launched four more Galileo satellites.

It is the first time it has sent so many satellites up at once.

It also brings the continent a step closer to having its own satellite navigation system.

Europe’s “GPS

The satellites blasted off aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

They will be a part of the EU’s alternative to the US Global Positioning System or GPS.

Are they always launched with an Ariane rocket?


Thursday’s launch was the first time that a European Ariane 5 rocket was used to send Galileo satellites to their orbit, which is around 24,000 kilometres above the Earth.

Previously, it has been a Russian Soyuz.

Two further Ariane 5 flights are planned for Galileo during the next two years.

How many satellites are up there now?

The launch brings the number of Galileo satellites in orbit to 18.

The planned total is 30, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

Describe one for me

They weigh around 700 kilos – slightly bigger than the average horse.

They are equipped with antennae and sensors and are powered by two 5-square-metre solar wings.

The Galileo programme

The programme has suffered some setbacks since the EU decided to push ahead with it 16 years ago.

There have been delays, financing problems, two satellites being put into the wrong orbit and questions about whether Europe really needs a rival system to GPS.

The EU aims to use Galileo to tap into the global market for satellite navigation services.

It is estimated they will be worth 250 billion euros by 2022.

When will the service be up-and-running?

Galileo is to start offering an initial service in the coming weeks.

Come 2020, when all the satellites are due to be in orbit, the system will allow users to determine their position more accurately than GPS alone.

It will also help in search and rescue missions.

Russia and China have also launched their own global positioning systems to underpin their defence industries and civilian commerce.

Get live updates from the launch and orbit here