Brussels, 8th December 2006
Making queues at motorway toll booths a thing of the past; finding your way around a large building; precision farming; monitoring animal transport; landing an aircraft with an accuracy of within 2 metres of the centre line of the runway; guiding blind people and explaining their itinerary in real time; driving at an appropriate speed in terms of obstacles on the road or the route it follows – all this will soon be possible thanks to Galileo, the civil satellite navigation programme developed by the European Commission and the European Space Agency.
The Galileo programme is based on cutting-edge technology which will enable users of a receiver to pick up signals emitted by several satellites in order to determine very precisely at any moment their position in time and space. To be able to operate, these services and applications will use a configuration of thirty satellites in three different circular orbits around the Earth. Each one will be fitted with atomic clocks providing an extremely accurate measurement of time. Earth-based stations will ensure the technical management of the system.
The first satellite was put into orbit on 28 December 2005, and the launch of a second one is planned for the end of 2007. These two satellites will test the critical technologies and secure the frequencies allotted to Galileo. This validation phase will continue with the production and launch of other satellites and the full development of the Earth-based component of the system, which will monitor the satellites and the quality of their signals. Galileo will be built and used in partnership with a private consortium of eight partners from throughout the European space industry. The concession contract should be signed during 2007. The total cost of building the system is not very high, compared to that of other large infrastructure projects.
Offering high precision and guaranteeing continuity of service, the Galileo system is specifically designed to meet the growing needs of civilian users. There are many uses for satellite navigation in daily life, from guiding motor vehicles to transport safety, as well as applications in various commercial sectors (banking, geology, public works, energy, etc.). Satellite navigation is starting to permeate all segments of society, which means that the Galileo programme has a real 'civilian' dimension.
The Galileo programme fits in fully with the EU's growth and employment strategy. Not only does it concern a rapidly developing technology – with outstanding prospects for development of the markets associated with satellite navigation – but it could also create 150 000 jobs in the EU alone, mainly in the high-technology research, applications and services sectors.
After its deployment phase in 2009 and 2010, Galileo will offer two advantages over the current system, the American GPS. Firstly, it will offer a guaranteed continuous signal. It will also offer positioning accuracy to within two metres, whereas GPS is accurate to around ten metres. This level of precision will allow existing services to be improved and, in particular, new applications to be developed.
Galileo is a system with global ambitions, and a growing number of countries are keen to take an active part in the project. In addition to the agreement concluded with the United States in 2004 to ensure the interoperability of the European and American systems, cooperation agreements have been concluded with China, Israel, Ukraine and South Korea. Similar agreements have been initialled with India and Morocco. Other agreements are being prepared with Norway and Argentina, and discussions are under way with Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Galileo is vital for the future of high technology in Europe. It will generate substantial contracts and give Europe a crucial technological edge to enable it to be competitive on the global stage.