Thursday, December 29, 2005

Independence at a price

The BBC is reporting that the launch of the first of the Galileo constellation of satellites, Giove-A, has been successful and telemetry from the satellite indicate that all systems are performing correctly.

CREDIT: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL)
The actual launch at 5:19 GMT on the 28th December

The 600 kg satellite was launched from Baikonur on Wednesday, and is the first of thirty satellites that will give Europe its own version of the US GPS and Russian GLONASS positioning systems.

However, as being able to work independently Galileo will be interoperable with both of the existing systems, users of the system will be able to take a position with the same receiver from any of the three satellite positioning systems in any combination.

As a result we've bought independence for Europe's military, and as a consequence it's civilian population, of the almost ubiquitous GPS system over which the US military retains control, reserving the right to limit usage, or switch it off entirely, without any notice.

Of course we paid a price for our independence, costing an estimate of €3.8 billion, the new system is hardly going to be cheap, however the launch this week draws a firm line in the sand. It indicates that global positioning has become so deeply embedded into our the fabric of life that we're no longer willing to risk someone else having control over it, even if that someone else is theoretically a friendly power.

The second test satellite, Giove-B, is due to launch in spring next year.

Update: More from New Scientist...

Update: The BBC is reporting that the first navigational signals have been successfully received from Giove-A.