The European Space Agency has launched the first two Galileo satellites which will give Europe its own satellite navigation system for the first time.
They launched on Friday on top of a Soyuz rocket, reaching an orbit at 23,000 km after a four-hour journey.
The aim is, eventually, to bring the satellite fleet up to 30, with improved services expected in 2014. This should include more precise in-car navigation, better road transport management and search and rescue services, and even more secure banking transactions and more reliable electricity provision.
The Galileo satellites incorporate more precise atomic clocks than the US GPS system, making for greater accuracy. While GPS can only pinpoint a position to within about ten meters, Galileo should be accurate to within a meter.
However, the two systems will be able to interoperate, meaning that all sat nav services should improve.
“This is a proud moment for all Europeans; today’s launch is proof of Europe’s prowess in the field of space activities,” says EU vice president Antonio Tajani, responsible for industry and entrepreneurship.
“I now call on European industry and SMEs, to seize without delay the important economic opportunities offered by this system – get innovating now! European citizens can get ready, Galileo is about to be a part of our daily lives.”
The Galileo programme will initially offer three services – the free Open Service, the Public Regulated Service (PRS) and the Search-and-Rescue Service.
A Commercial Service and a Safety-of-Life Service will be added later, giving a higher data throughput rate and higher accuracy authenticated data.