EU launches first satellite in Galileo navigation program

The first satellite in the EU's Galileo satellite navigation program 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 a.m. 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. 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 Ђ3.6 billion ($4.3 billion) Galileo project will eventually use about 30 satellites and end Europe's reliance on the GPS system, which is ultimately controlled by the U.S. 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." It also says users would be notified of any potential satellite problems within seconds.

After Wednesday's launch, a second satellite named "Giove B", "Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element", will be placed in orbit this spring.

Two more satellites will be launched in 2008 to complete the testing phase, which requires at least four satellites in orbit to guarantee an exact position and time anywhere on earth. Six non-EU nations, China, India, Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine, have also joined the program set up by the European Commission and European Space Agency, and discussions are also under way with others.

The European Union is to allocate an initial Ђ1 billion (US$1.2 billion) from its 2007-2013 budget to fund deployment and commercial operations of the Galileo satellite system. The private sector will contribute two-thirds of the funds for the project, which is expected to create more than 150,000 jobs in Europe alone.

Galileo will more than double GPS coverage, providing satellite navigation for people from motorists to sailors to mapmakers. In particular, Galileo is expected to improve coverage in high-latitude areas such as northern Europe, reports the AP. I.L.

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