Euro GPS network gets green light
PARIS, France (CNN) -- European governments have given the final go-ahead for the launch of the Galileo satellite navigation network, Europe's answer to the U.S.-controlled Global Positioning System.
The long-delayed $3.6 billion (3.2 billion euro) system, Europe's biggest ever infrastructure project, will be based on 30 satellites and should be operational by 2008.
Final agreement on the network was reached Monday at a meeting in Paris of members of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Galileo will be used to improve traffic management on land, sea and in the air around the world, as well as aiding all forms of navigation and activities such as oil prospecting, scientific research and even hiking.
"This is a great day for Europe in general and its space community in particular," ESA director Antonio Rotota said in a statement. "Our member states have reached agreement in the common interest."
ESA says the Galileo program will give a much-needed boost to Europe's ailing space industry, creating about 140,000 jobs and "a 460 percent return on investment."
Unlike the American GPS system, Galileo will be under full civilian control.
One meter accuracy
The U.S. satellite network is controlled by the Pentagon, which can downgrade or totally disable non-military access during conflicts.
Galileo's civilian signal will also give locations accurate to within one meter (one yard) -- a significant improvement on that offered by the GPS system.
The U.S. regards Galileo as a challenge to its superiority in space technology and argues that it duplicates GPS.
Last year Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz warned that the European network would "significantly complicate our ability to ensure availability of critical military GPS services in a time of crisis, and at the same time assure that adversary forces are denied similar capabilities."
ESA is playing down any rivalry with the American system, saying in its statement Monday that Galileo would "complement" the GPS network.
The agency says devices for receiving Galileo's signals will be interoperable with equipment used on GPS and GLONASS -- the partially operable Russian-built network.
The first experimental Galileo satellite is due to be launched in 2004 and will act as a test bed for the network's systems.
When complete Galileo will comprise 30 satellites (27 operational and 3 spares) positioned in three circular orbits 23,616 kilometers (14,677 miles) above the Earth.