Galileo gives Europe a superior location

The successful launch of the Galileo pathfinder satellite puts Europe in a strong position. Taking advantage will need imagination, not rocket science

Congratulations to Guildford-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, the university spin-off company blazing the way for Europe's Galileo navigation system. SSTL's Giove-A, the first test satellite for the new network, is in orbit and checking out well; new records for accuracy are being set, new deals are being signed and Europe is on the way to proving that it still deserves leadership status in global technology.

Our friends to the West are annoyed. The American GPS system, itself a technological marvel, will no longer have a monopoly in reliable, universal location technology. One of the reasons that the US government was so keen to fund the system was that it could unilaterally restrict or remove access to civilian or non-American military users: this is, of course, one of the reasons that Europe is so keen to get Galileo going. But the Americans have calmed down from their initial demands that the project be scrapped: having convinced themselves (if nobody else) that they could blow it out of the sky or jam it off the spectrum, they have decided to go along with it.

Our friends to the East are delighted. While there are plenty of ethical and pragmatic reasons to be wary, there are also good arguments for including countries such as China and India in the Galileo club – and they're only too happy to sign up. If Europe is committed to encouraging global economic growth and democratic reform through closer political and trade alliances with areas that would benefit from either, then this is an excellent tool to that end.

We should be happy too, and not just because Galileo has made Guildford a slightly more interesting place. The receiver technology is advancing rapidly thanks to the popularity of GPS, with receivers taking a fraction of the power and space they needed just five years ago. Galileo can take advantage of that: combined with the rapid increase in wireless wide area networking, we're getting to the point where practically anything can be equipped with the intelligence to know where it is and report back. There will be new markets and new opportunities as a result: they may be as unforeseeable to us now as eBay was to Tim Berners-Lee when he cooked up the Web, but they will be there.

Now is the time to look up to the skies and dream. Next year, get down to earth and make it happen.