European Union launches second Galileo navigation satellite

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European Union launches second Galileo navigation satellite

Brussels (Belgium) – The European Union has launched its second test satellite for the Galileo navigation system.  Launched on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan (no Borat jokes please), the satellite will help the European Space Agency test out electronics and signalling for what will be a 30 satellite constellation to compete with the US Global Positioning System.

The Giove-B satellite is the final test satellite for the Galileo system which is years behind schedule.  The first satellite launched back in December 2005 and all the satellites are scheduled to be installed in 2013 or 2014.  Total cost for the program will be between $5.3 and $11 billion, depending on who you talk to.

Private companies had originally agreed to help foot some of the bill, but they pulled out after years of problems with the test satellites.  The European Union stepped in and agreed to make up the $2.5 to $3 billion shortfall.

But the Europeans will be chasing the Russians and Chinese who are much further along in their respective satellite navigation systems.  Russia’s Glosnass system will have 24 satellites and 18 are already operational.  Russia was able to ramp up their system quickly because it had a full constellation of satellites left over in the mid 1990s from the cold war.  The satellites are in a somewhat unstable orbit and need to be replaced every five to seven years.

The Chinese Beidou-2 or Compass navigation system already has two satellites in orbit and the constellation will eventually scale up to 35 satellites.  China promises the system will provide worldwide service with 10-meter accuracy and companies and governments can pay for greater accuracy.  The Beidou-1 system which uses only four satellites and only covers Asia became operational last year.

While China, Europe and Russia all say their respective systems are meant to reduce their dependence on the US GPS system, they also have their sights set on the booming handheld and vehicle navigation market.  In 2007, more than 33.9 million navigation units were sold and that was triple in 2006.  Mainstream customers can now get a simple car navigation unit for a few hundred dollars and several mobile phone makers are including GPS navigation in some premium phones.