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EU's prestigious Galileo launched

The 'Giove A' satellite took off from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.

tech reviews Updated: Dec 31, 2005 19:25 IST
Angela Doland (AP)
Angela Doland (AP)

The first satellite in the EU's Galileo satellite navigation programme was launched from Kazakhstan on Wednesday, a major step forward for Europe's answer to the United States' Global Positioning System satellites.

The satellite, named 'Giove A', took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket on schedule at 11.19 am local time (0519 GMT). After the launch amid clear skies, ground control teams were waiting to establish a connection with the satellite.

Journalists monitored the liftoff through a linkup at the European Space Agency headquarters in Paris.

What does Galileo do

In orbit, the satellite will test atomic clocks and navigation signals, secure Galileo's frequencies in space and allow scientists to monitor how radiation affects the craft.

The€3.4 billion ($4 billion) Galileo project will eventually use about 30 satellites and end Europe's reliance on the GPS system, which is ultimately controlled by the US military. Galileo is under civilian control. The European Space Agency says it can guarantee operation at all times, except in case of "the direst emergency."

For now, "if the Americans want to scramble GPS, they can do it whenever they want, and everyone would suffer from these decisions," ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina said.

Galileo Vs GPS

Galileo will also be more exact than GPS, with precision of up to one metre, compared to five metres with GPS technology, Bonacina said. With Galileo, for example, rescue services will be able to direct ambulances on which lane to use on a highway, he said. After Wednesday's launch, a second satellite named 'Giove B' -- "Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element" -- will be placed in orbit this spring.

First Published: Dec 28, 2005 12:15 IST