Galileo, European Satellite Navigation System


Almost eight years ago, Europe embarked on a journey to create its own navigation satellite system. Named the Galileo positioning system, this global navigation satellite system was intended for the European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA) as an alternative to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). We all know that the US Military runs the current GPS network system. 

Concept building began as early as 1999 but it was four years later that proponents agreed on the first stage of the Galileo program. The main difference from the current GPS ran by the US is that Galileo is intended primarily for civilian use, unlike the current one which the U.S. military has arbitrary control over. The US has the right to limit access or shut down totally public access to the GPS system especially during times of war or when they opt to. The Galileo system will only shut down access to during extreme circumstances.

Also, the Galileo project claims to be better than the GPS in that it can provide location precision of around one meter. The US GPS system provides only a 10 meter location precision. Also, the Galileo system will be available to all users, which means both civil and military are welcome to use it.

When finished, the Galileo system will consists of 30 satellites, 27 of those would be operational while the remaining three will serve as active spares. The satellites will orbit the three circular Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) planes which is located about 24,000 km altitude above the Earth, and at an inclination of the orbital planes of 56 degrees with reference to the equatorial plane.

On December 28, 2005 the first experimental satellite was launched. The Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element test satellite or GIOVE-A was launched to test technology in orbit for the Galileo positioning system. Two more test satellites, two more GIOVE, are expected to be launched in the next two years.

GIOVE-B was supposed to be launched this year, but problems after problems have pushed the Galileo project behind schedule. This time, the reported problem was with the Russian rocket Soyuz which was the one that supposed to place GIOVE-B into orbit.

Just like any space program today, the Galileo program has been hit by rising costs. Plus, the European Union officials had to step in when private partners began squabbling with each other which caused several delays in the project. The estimated costs for the project has now reached 10 billion euro or 14 billion dollars. After the delays, the latest forecast for the system’s completion has been set to 2012.

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