At the moment when your satnav sends you up a cart track, into a river, or the wrong way up a one way street everyone can blame the USA, and to a lesser extent Russia, who respectively developed GPS and GLONASS for military use. Both have made a less accurate version of their systems available for commercial and civilian use but the primary function of both systems remains military. A threat exists that in the event of a conflict either could deny their satellite navigation systems to the rest of the world.
To counter this threat Europe has embarked on Galileo, a multi billion euro project to provide the world’s first truly civilian global satellite navigation system that can operate independently of GPS and GLONASS while being interoperable with both those systems. Since 2010 the headquarters for Galileo have been in Prague.
Its first four satellites were launched in 2011 and 2012 and these are currently part of the In-Orbit-Validation programme that is testing Galileo before the full implementation of thirty satellites is launched. Galileo achieved its first completely autonomous determination of a position using only the four satellites in March of 2013. The next two years will see the number of satellites in orbit reach eighteen, with the total of thirty to be reached by 2019.
Galileo promises better precision than existing global navigation satellite systems, and its unique feature will be its ability to communicate with the user. An ability that will be used to provide a search and rescue service that will not only alert rescue services but provide feedback to those in need of rescue. Though a civilian system Galileo will be available to the military and will no doubt impact on European common security and defence policies.
One touching aspect of Galileo is the decision to name all the satellites after European children who would have been between nine and eleven years of age in 2011. The names chosen were those of the winners of national drawing competitions and thus far ‘Thijs’ (Belgium), ‘Natalia’ (Bulgaria), ‘David (Czech Republic), and ‘Sif’ (Denmark) are beaming signals down to earth. Here are their entries.
Thijs Paelman from Belgium
Natalia Nikolaeva from Bulgaria
David Markarjanc from Czech Republic
Sif Skov Christensen from Denmark