European Space Agency backing 'Galileo' GPS system

The European Space Agency (ESA) has provided US$466 million in funding for a European version of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) called Galileo, a move that could eventually lead to development of dual-system GPS/Galileo receivers that have greater accuracy, availability, continuity and integrity than single-band GPS receivers, according to GPS experts.

The 15 nations that make up the ESA approved the funding for Galileo at a ministerial meeting in Edinburgh late last week. ESA Director Antonio Rodota plans to provide details of that decision this Friday at ESA headquarters in Paris, and the European Commission is expected to provide matching funding for Galileo next month.

Under development since 1999, Galileo is designed to provide highly accurate navigation signals from a constellation of 30 satellites operating in the same frequency bands as GPS receivers. The ESA funding will cover the development and validation stage of the system, including the launch of a limited constellation of three satellites. The ESA estimates the total cost of Galileo at $2.6 billion.

Richard Langley, a professor in the Geodetic Research Laboratory at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, said plans tentatively call for Galileo to mesh with GPS frequencies to simplify the development of dual-system GPS/Galileo receivers and drive down prices.

GPS receivers are used in a wide variety of enterprise applications, including aircraft navigation, mining, truck-tracking, fleet management and surveying. Consumer GPS receivers used by hikers sell for as little as $100.

Dual-system receivers not only would provide greater positioning accuracy, "but would also provide the three other key performance measures of a navigation system: availability, continuity and integrity,'' Langley said. The "use of a dial constellation will be particularly beneficial in situations where the performance of GPS alone is marginal, such as in urban canyons and other restricted environments."

Langley predicted that the cost of a dual-system receiver wouldn't be much higher than that of a GPS-only receiver. And once Galileo becomes operational, GPS-only receivers will be relegated to the technology junk heap, he added.

The ESA plans to have the full Galileo constellation in operation by 2008.

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