October 14, 2012, 9:50 PM — Europe's rival to GPS is stepping up its efforts to provide precise navigation, road transport management, search and rescue services and secure banking.
Galileo already combines the most precise atomic clock ever flown for navigation -- accurate to 1 second in 3 million years -- with a powerful transmitter to broadcast navigation data worldwide.
It launched two more satellites into space on Friday from a South American spaceport in French Guiana.
The satellites, named David and Sif1, join another pair that has been orbiting the Earth since last year. Now that the four satellites form a mini-constellation, Galileo can be validated and fine-tuned, after which 14 more satellites will be deployed by the end of 2014.
The two satellites just launched are the first to carry search and rescue antennas as part of the international Cospas-Sarsat system, which detects and locates emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and backcountry hikers in distress.
Galileo aims to provide a highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning service that's better than GPS and controlled by civilians. Galileo will be compatible with GPS, which is maintained by the U.S. government, as well as the Russian government's GLONASS. GPS and GLONASS aren't Galileo's only competitors -- China's Beidou constellation is already operating, as well.
According to ZDNet, Galileo "services include a freely available open service, for use in in-car navigation systems, for example; a public regulated service, for first responders such as police and ambulance; a search and rescue service, for maritime emergencies, among others; a safety of life service, for aviation; and a fee-based commercial service, for mapping and surveying providers, for example."
Galileo, which should be certified and ready to use in 2015, is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency, and one of the largest space projects ever conducted in Europe.