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The European GPS is coming

P. Carril/ESA Representation of the Galileo constellation of satellites, to begin the experimental phase in the coming weeksP. Carril/ESA

By late 2016, the new global positioning system developed by the European Union should be up and running on an experimental basis. With the successful launch of four satellites on an Ariane rocket on November 17, 2016, the Galileo system has reached its peak of 18 satellites in orbit. In 2020, once it is fully operational, there should be a constellation of 30 satellites. Only 24 are needed, but there will be six more for added security. Built by a consortium from England and Germany, the current number of 18 satellites is insufficient to begin testing the system. In the coming weeks, other equipment and new-generation smartphones are scheduled to begin capturing signals from the system, using them to update its position and synchronize information. Paul Verhoef, director of the Galileo Program and Navigation-related Activities at the European Space Agency, tells the BBC that “technically speaking, we are ready and the system is performing very well.” The commitment is to provide real-time positioning on a precision scale of less than one meter—the accuracy of the American GPS system is about eight meters. Galileo was designed in the early 2000s, and from the outset, it has been criticized for its high cost, estimated at five billion euros, and for whether Europe really needs to have its own positioning system. Unlike GPS and Russia’s GLONASS, which are administered by the military, Galileo is a civilian program. The satellites are installed on orbital planes at an altitude of 23,000 km.