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Europe clears way for satellite navigation system Galileo

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced that it had overcome a key hurdle for launching Galileo, a satellite navigation system that will joust with the United States’ GPS for a future market worth billions of dollars. ESA member states finalised terms for the “Galileo Joint Undertaking,” a legal vehicle that will be set up by the agency and its partner the European Union (EU) for managing the joint project, it said in a statement.Galileo, scheduled to be operational by 2008, is designed to girdle the globe with 30 satellites in medium Earth orbit, comprising 27 operational satellites and three reserves, plus two control centres on the ground. It should provide users, ranging from aircraft and shipping to cars and trekkers, with a navigational fix accurate to within just one metrefeet).

At present, the only global satellite navigation system available to civilians is the US GPS, but it depends on military satellites that ultimately are under the control of the Pentagon. The total development and launch costs are put at around 3.2 billion euros (3.77 billion dollars), with running costs from 2008 onwards of around 220 million euros, the agency said. The United States in 2001 voiced concerns about Galileo, suggesting that it could be a security threat because of its open access. Those concerns have been a significant factor in delaying the project, along with friction among the project’s major partners — Britain, France, Germany and Italy — on how to share out the contract work. ESA is institutionally separate from the EU and its panoply of organisations, although most of its members are EU states and their scientists often have close collaborative ties. The 15 ESA members are Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Canada has special status and participates in some projects under a cooperation agreement. The Galileo Joint Undertaking will be responsible for developing and validating the Galileo prototypes and preparing the system’s deployment and operations.
The organisation will be based in Brussels, and the EU’s representative to it will be the European Commission. ESA said that a market study suggests there will be a 1.8 billion people who will seek navigation-by-satellite services by 2010, which would rise to 3.6 billion in 2020. GPS, like Russia’s Glonass system, is a military-run network. It can be downgraded or even switched off if an enemy attempts to use the system to launch, for instance, guided missiles or drones for use in a terrorist act.