The European Commission (EC) estimates that 6-7% of European GDP – around 800 billion by value – is already dependent on satellite navigation. But European users have no alternative today other than to take their positions from US GPS or Russian Glonass satellites.
Satellite positioning has already become the standard means of navigating. If the signals were switched off or degraded tomorrow, many ship and aircraft crews would find it inconvenient and difficult to revert to traditional navigation methods.
Many utility networks are also more and more dependant on the precise time synchronisation provided by the satellite navigation systems. As the use of satellite navigation spreads, the implications of a signal failure will be even greater, jeopardising not only the efficient running of transport systems, but also human safety.
As far back as the 1990s, the European Union saw the need for Europe to have its own global satellite navigation system. The conclusion to build one was taken in similar spirit to decisions in the 1970s to embark on other well-known European endeavours, such as the Ariane launcher and Airbus.
The European Commission and European Space Agency joined forces to build Galileo, an independent European system under civilian control.
European independence is the chief reason for taking this major step. However, other subsidiary reasons include:
- By being interoperable with GPS and Glonass, Galileo is set to be a cornerstone of global satellite navigation. The system will be under civilian control and its coming online will allow positions to be determined accurately for most places on Earth, even in high rise cities where buildings obscure signals from satellites low on the horizon. This is because the overall number of satellites available from which to take a position is more than doubled
- By placing satellites in orbits at a greater inclination to the equatorial plane than GPS, Galileo will achieve better coverage at high latitudes. This will make it particularly suitable for operation over northern Europe, an area not well covered by GPS
- With Galileo, Europe will be able to exploit the opportunities provided by satellite navigation to the full extent. Receiver and equipment manufacturers, application providers and service operators will benefit from novel business opportunities.