An artist's impression of the Galileo constellation in orbit

Europe’s GPS rival is nearly complete following penultimate Galileo launch

Image credit: European Space Agency

Europe has launched four more Galileo navigation satellites, bringing the total number up to 22, and leaving just one more launch before the system is complete and can deliver global coverage.

Galileo is Europe’s alternative to America’s Global Positioning System (GPS) and once fully operational will provide positioning accuracy of one metre compared to several metres currently possible through the US GPS, with which Galileo is designed to be fully compatible.

The system first went live in 2016, with incomplete functionality, after years of delays and cost overruns. 

The latest launch saw all four 715kg satellites placed into their target 22 922km-altitude orbit by the dispenser atop an Ariane 5 rocket.

In the coming days, this quartet will be steered into their final working orbits. There, they will begin around six months of tests – performed by the European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency (GSA) – to check they are ready to join the working Galileo constellation.

Paul Verhoef, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) director of Navigation, said: “ESA is the design agent, system engineer and procurement agent of Galileo on behalf of the European Commission. Galileo is now an operating reality, so, in July, operational oversight of the system was passed to the GSA.

“Accordingly, GSA took control of these satellites as soon as they separated from their launcher, with ESA maintaining an advisory role. This productive partnership will continue with the next Galileo launch, by Ariane 5 in mid-2018.

“Meanwhile, ESA is also working with the European Commission and GSA on dedicated research and development efforts and system design to begin the procurement of the Galileo Second Generation, along with other future navigation technologies.”

Next year’s launch of another quartet will bring the 24‑satellite Galileo constellation to the point of completion, plus two orbital spares.

The Galileo programme is funded and owned by the EU.

Smartphone support for Galileo remained limited until this year when a raft of new devices from the likes of Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Google included the functionality.

The iPhone 8 and the iPhone X in particular are the first of Apple’s devices to be Galileo-compatible and their popularity should drive consumer uptake of the service.

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