GPS rival Galileo begins countdown for satellite launch

GPS rival Galileo begins countdown for satellite launch

Summary: The third and fourth satellites in Europe's Galileo constellation, a civilian-controlled alternative to the US's GPS, are scheduled for take-off on Friday from a French Guiana spaceport.

TOPICS: Telcos, Nasa / Space

Galileo, Europe's rival to the US's GPS navigation system, is gearing up to launch its third and fourth satellites into space on Friday.

An Arianspace Soyuz rocket carrying the UK-built payload is scheduled to take off at 3:15pm local time (7:15pm in the UK) on Friday from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Astrium satellite
Astrium, seen here testing a satellite, is providing the two satellites in tomorrow's Galileo launch. Image: EADS Astrium

The lift-off comes a couple of weeks later than the 28 September rocket launch promised in May, but the Galileo programme is still on track to provide its first navigation services in 2014, the European Commission said on Thursday.

Once the new additions are in orbit, the Galileo constellation will undergo validation and fine tuning, to get ready for another 22 satellites scheduled to join it in 2013. The European Commission has said that it will increase the frequency of launches next year.

With Galileo, Europe is aiming to provide a civilian-controlled alternative to GPS, but with more precision and reliability as to the exact position of the user in time and space. The commission wants a piece of a satellite navigation market that it estimates to be worth €125bn (£77bn) right now, and predicts will reach €244bn by 2020.

"Galileo provides a real opportunity for businesses producing satellite-based products and applications," European Commission vice president Antonio Tajani said in a statement. "European industry should be ready to seize a vast market which is there for the taking."

The European system is designed to be compatible with GPS, and some services provided over Galileo will be interoperable with the US system, according to the European Commission. These services include a freely available open service, for use in in-car navigation systems, for example; a public regulated service, for first responders such as police and ambulance; a search and rescue service, for maritime emergencies, among others; a safety of life service, for aviation; and a fee-based commercial service, for mapping and surveying providers, for example.

GPS is not the only competitor Galileo faces in the satellite market, as China's Beidou constellation is already operational, as is Russia's GLONASS, which is supported in some Sony handsets.

So far, the development of Galileo has cost €2.4bn, with two-thirds of that cost borne by the European Commission. Deployment is also expected to come to €2.4bn, wholly provided from the EU's budget.

Some of that cash has come to the UK, as the satellites were built by EADS company Astrium in its facilities here.

"The satellite payloads, responsible for emitting the signals, were designed, developed and manufactured by a team at Astrium's Portsmouth facility," Astrium spokesman Jeremy Close told ZDNet.

Topics: Telcos, Nasa / Space

Sam Shead

About Sam Shead

Sam is generally at his happiest with a new piece of technology in his hands or nailing down an exclusive story. In the past he's written for The Engineer and the Daily Mail. These days, Sam is particularly interested in emerging technology, datacentres, cloud, storage and web start-ups.

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  • All this because the French

    military doesn't want GPS in their cell phones, just in case they have to attack the United States. All that money would have come in handy to bail out Greece and Spain! Even so, WCDMA was abandoned so it's too late...
    Tony Burzio
    • It actually makes sense.

      Your friend today, may not be tomorrow.
    • Compared to a bank bailout

      €2.4 billion sounds like a complete bargain and a far more sensible use of taxpayers' money.
    • Compared to a bank bailout

      €2.4 billion sounds like a complete bargain and a far more sensible use of taxpayers' money.
    • I'll Bite

      Okay, I'll bite. Why would the French military not having GPS in their cell phones make it any easier for them to attach the US?