By Jonathan Amos
BBC News science reporter
The Galileo satellite navigation system will soon become a reality after being given final approval in Brussels.
There will be 30 spacecraft in the Galileo constellation
European transport ministers agreed to the next phase of the project - the construction and launch of spacecraft.
It is expected the European network will have orbiting satellites in place to begin operations beyond 2008.
Galileo will be interoperable with the US GPS, improving the accuracy and reliability of navigation and timing signals received across the planet.
"This is a real technological revolution," said the European Commissioner for Transport, Jacques Barrot.
"This will have many practical applications: direct information for emergency rescuers in case of car accidents, dynamic traffic management to help trucks avoid huge traffic jams, the prevention of natural catastrophes such as flooding or fires, and a lot of other useful applications."
WHAT IS GALILEO?
Europe's own global satellite navigation system
Will work alongside US GPS and Russian Glonass systems
Promises real-time positioning down to just a few metres
Guaranteed under all but most extreme circumstances
Suitable for safety-critical systems - can run trains, guide cars and land planes
Friday's meeting of ministers approved the "deployment" phase of Galileo. This covers the construction and launch of satellites and the building of ground receiving stations.
This will cost 2.1 billion euros (£1.4bn), with industry putting up two-thirds of the investment. More than a billion euros has already been released for research and development. Further funds will need to be approved to pay for the first years of operations.
Eventually, however, it is expected the running costs will be entirely covered by the private sector.
Galileo is expected to drive a multi-billion-euro industry in which receivers find their way into many more markets - from consumer devices such as mobile phones to safety-critical applications such as guided trains and buses.
"This programme will offer Europe a worldwide position with countries such as China and Russia using the system Galileo," said Jacques Barrot.
"We estimate the creation of 150,000 jobs and a serial of industrial and technological developments."
THE GALILEO FUTURE
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 the exact location of a car driver's accident
Will allow someone to find their way in an unfamiliar city using their mobile phone
The final constellation of 30 satellites will double the spacecraft providing the American Global Positioning System, greatly improving the quality of signals users can receive.
The idea of the Europeans developing their own network had irked the US Department of Defense, which controls GPS, because of the potential of Galileo's signals interfering with those intended for use by the American military.
The Pentagon was concerned frequency clashes could have prevented American commanders from degrading navigation data in the theatre of war to all but their own forces, as is possible at present.
But Washington and Brussels signed an agreement in June to adopt compatible operating standards.
These technical parameters will allow either side to effectively jam the other's signal in a small area, such as a battlefield, without shutting down the entire system.
Galileo should lead to a bigger demand for positioning systems
More importantly from the civilian perspective, the agreement allowed the systems to be meshed seamlessly, greatly benefiting manufacturers, service providers and consumers.
Better accuracy, especially in built-up areas where the current GPS signal can be patchy, should lead to a bigger demand for positioning systems.
Two consortia are fighting to obtain the contract to operate Galileo, and ministers are expected to decide on a winner in the next few months.
The Eurely alliance includes Alcatel, Finmeccanica and Vinci; while the iNavsat consortium comprises Thales, EADS and Inmarsat.
The first demonstrator spacecraft should be launched next year. Although 2008 is supposed to be the start time for Galileo, commentators say the system will not be fully operational for some years after this date.