Enhanced satnav service goes live in Europe

The first stage of a European satellite navigation system has gone live. The EGNOS Open Service is now available to businesses and the general public, improving the accuracy of satellite navigation signals over Europe.

This is a major milestone for the project: its primary service is now available to all users equipped with EGNOS-compatible receivers. Most mass-market satellite navigation receivers being sold today are ready for the system.

EGNOS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, consists of transponders aboard three geostationary satellites over the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Europe, linked to a network of about 40 ground stations and four control centres.

The ground stations receive signals sent out by the US GPS satellites. Information on the accuracy and reliability of these signals is relayed to users via the geostationary satellite transponders. This allows them to determine their position to within two metres, compared with about 20 metres for GPS alone. The Open Service is provided free of charge.

The system can support applications such as high-precision crop-spraying, automatic road-tolling or pay-per-use vehicle insurance schemes.

EGNOS will be certified for use in aviation and other safety-critical areas, with a Safety-of-Life service expected to be in place by mid-2010. This service will inform the user within six seconds if the system malfunctions. A Commercial Service is also under test, and should be made available next year.

EGNOS was developed as a joint project by the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Commission (EC) and Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.

The European Union is continuing to develop a global satellite navigation system, Galileo, but is committed to supporting EGNOS for the long term, even after Galileo becomes operational.

ESA had overall responsibility for design and development of EGNOS and placed a contract with a consortium led Thales Alenia Space, France, to develop the system. It was handed over to the EC on 1 April.

The European Commission now owns and manages the system, with ESA as the design and procurement agent through a delegation agreement.

The European Satellite Services Provider, ESSP SaS, founded by seven air navigation services providers and based in Toulouse, France, manages EGNOS operations. A contract between the EC and ESSP SaS was signed on 30 September. The contract provides for the management of EGNOS operations and the maintenance of the system until the end of 2013.

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