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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 15:58 GMT
Green light for Galileo project
Galileo, Esa
The money for Galileo is released in stages
Europe is to press ahead with plans to build a network of navigational satellites.

The Galileo system will send precise data to drivers, sailors, mobile phone and computer users, allowing them to find their exact locations on the surface of the planet.

We now have a 'yes' for Galileo

Loyola de Palacio, EU Transport Commissioner
European Transport ministers gave the green light to the project at a meeting in Brussels.

Galileo will be a rival to the existing Global Positioning System (GPS) run by the United States - although the EU says the two networks will be compatible.

Galileo will cost 1.1 billion euros (0.7bn) of EU money to move from the design phase into space. The investment will allow researchers to test technology in orbit before the entire network of 30 satellites is deployed.

The final roll-out of Galileo will require substantial further funds.

Security issues

EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio told a news conference on Tuesday: "We now have a 'yes' for Galileo which signifies Europe's wish to be present in the international scene in the areas of research, technology and industrial development."

Why have Galileo?
Expected to be more than 400 million sat-nav users by 2015
European aerospace and electronics firms say it will create more than 100,000 jobs
Rescue services will be able to pinpoint a driver's exact location if they are involved in an accident
Will allow someone to find their way in an unfamiliar city using their mobile phone
She was speaking after EU transport ministers signed off 450 million euros ($396 million) of funding.

This will pay for the next phase of the development programme. The money comes on top of the 100 million euros already authorised and 550 million euros committed to the project by the European Space Agency (Esa).

Galileo will lead Europe into conflict with the US, which has security concerns about the building of a navigational network to rival its own system.

GPS, like the Russian Glonass system, is a military-run network and can be downgraded or taken offline if an enemy attempts to use the data to launch guided missiles, for example.

By contrast, Galileo will be a civilian-run operation that will be guaranteed in all but the direst circumstances so services that are safety-critical - landing planes, for example - can rely on the data.

"Only the realisation of this civil system will allow the beginning of the development of the use of satellite navigation in conditions which are suitable for Europeans," French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said in a statement.

"It will allow the European Union to liberate itself from dependence on the American GPS system," he added.

Future horizons

Ministers also agreed on the structure of a new management company to oversee Galileo's development.

EU governments want to see private enterprise involved in the project but exactly how this should be co-ordinated has yet to be decided.

Private firms will not be allowed to join the Galileo management board at least until after it has finished putting projects out to tender.

Galileo should be fully operational in 2007. Some critics have questioned the need for another satellite navigation network when GPS seems to serve most users' needs perfectly well.

What is Galileo?
Europe's own global satellite navigation system
Will work alongside US GPS and Russian Glonass systems
Promises real-time positioning accuracy down to one metre
Guaranteed under all but most extreme circumstances
Suitable for safety-critical systems - can run trains, guide cars and land planes
But proponents argue that navigational services will become increasingly lucrative in the coming years, especially with the emergence of new mobile phone and pocket computer applications.

Also, because Galileo will be inter-operable with GPS and Glonass, satellite navigation services should become more accurate and reliable in those areas that have been poorly served so far - and this includes some areas of Northern Europe.

In addition, many see a political need to be independent of the US on major projects. It was just this kind of thinking that led to the Ariane space rocket programme and the Airbus consortium of European plane manufacturers.

The BBC's Jonty Bloom
"Galileo has been sold to the doubters as a vital technological development"
Mike Healy, director, Galileo Industries
"It's hi-tech infrastructure that will soon be part of every day life."
See also:

23 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Q&A: What is Galileo?
03 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Galileo: How will it work?
15 Mar 02 | Europe
Satellite decision draws near
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