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Galileo: Europe’s Advanced Global Navigation System

What is Galileo?
Galileo is Europe’s version of GPS, which falls under the umbrella of GNSS, a global navigation satellite system. Galileo is operated by the European Space Agency and the European GNSS Agency, which is headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic. Prior to Galileo, most of Europe relied on the Russian GLONASS GNSS, which offered limited use to civilians. After almost 20 years of development, Galileo now provides all European civilians access to global navigation, free of cost.

History of Galileo GNSS
The beginning stages of Galileo were humble. In fact, due to disagreements over funding, the entire project was almost cancelled. In May of 2003, a budget of €1.1 billion was finally allotted to Germany, France, and Italy, who were in charge of spearheading the project. Two years later, the first satellite was launched, followed by a second in April of 2008. By 2018, 26 of the projected 30 activity satellites were in orbit, and by 2019 it was released to the public. All 30 satellites are expected to be functional by the end of 2020.

Galileo vs. GPS
Although the GNSS system of the United States, GPS, was ahead of the curve and launched far before Galileo, Galileo is slightly more advanced. According to De Ingenieur, Galileo is accurate to within less than a meter, whereas GPS measures three meters. The frequency of information sent to GNSS Galileo receivers also exceeds GPS, which according to an article by Cast Navigation means fewer delays in service and ionospheric errors. For even greater accuracy and frequency, some hardware developers are working to combine the power of each GNSS.

The satellite count between both GNSS also differs. As of 2020, GPS has a higher count of 26, which each orbit the earth every 12 hours. 

Galileo vs. BeiDou
Galileo and GPS are not the only two GNSS in orbit. In 2020, China completed their own GNSS, known as BeiDou. BeiDou differs from the other systems primarily in that it is equipped with two-way communications, allowing satellites to receive information from connected devices. Earlier iterations of BeiDou began offering navigation services in China in the early 2000s, and now that it has been completed, it offers users from China and surrounding areas the ability to navigate by satellite on a global level. 

Which other countries are developing GNSS?
Besides the US, China, Russia, and Europe, India and Japan both have two regional satellite systems. Japan and India’s systems provide coverage of limited areas, namely Japan and India. In Japan’s case, part of the reason for developing an independent satellite system was “urban canyons,” the term for when tall buildings, such as skyscrapers, built in close proximity actually change the conditions of the air caught in between them, the way a canyon would. Urban canyons in Japanese cities were causing issues for users of GPS, so their system improves service in those areas while maintaining compatibility with GPS. Japan’s GNSS of seven satellites is scheduled to be completed by 2023. 

The Future of Galileo
In the future, Galileo will continue to contribute to urban development in Europe, where cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam have made significant progress in areas like transportation and sustainability. Galileo will also contribute substantially to trade in and between countries, allowing people and things to move more efficiently. 

Launching satellites into orbit is expensive, complex, and political. Since at least the 90s, all world powers with GNSS have worked together to maintain compatibility between their systems. There are economic and social benefits of keeping global positioning services available, quick, and accurate, no matter where you are in the world. Like the US, Russia, China, Japan, and India, Europe will continue to maintain and improve their GNSS. The question now is, what do we want to do with that technology, here on earth?

For more information on the world's various forms of GNSS, take a look at our other blog posts:
What is GLONASS?
BeiDou: China’s Newest Version of GPS
GIS? GNSS? GPS? What's it all mean?