When portable GPS systems for consumer vehicles came onto the market during the 2000s, it revolutionized the way we navigate. No longer reliant on unwieldy folded maps and stopping at gas stations hoping the clerk can give us directions, we were finally able to free ourselves from the problem of getting lost on the road. GPS was even more important for commercial, industrial, and military applications.
Last year in December, Galileo finally launched, introducing us to the next big step forward in satellite navigation technology. Unlike GPS, which is actually owned and operated by the United States government and military, Galileo was created by the European Union to avoid relying on another nation’s system.
Galileo has finally gone live, after being in development since 1999. By 2020, it will be fully complete, featuring a swarm of 30 sophisticated solar powered satellites circling the globe.
Galileo was formally approved by the European Commission in 1999. By 2008, when the project had failed to raise funding from the private sector, the Commission took over the project with a new, taxpayer-funded budget of 3.4 billion euros through 2013, and an additional 7 billion euros from 2014 to 2020.
By 2011, the first two Galileo satellites were launched successfully into orbit, followed by two more in 2012. Today, with a total of eighteen satellites in orbit out of an intended 30, Galileo is now able to go live with its services.
Galileo is capable of an almost frightening level of accuracy. For commercial users, a service available through service providers will be able to produce accuracy down to less than a single meter. This is due, in part, to Galileo’s Space Passive Hydrogen Masers. These ultra-precise atomic clocks have an error margin of just one billionth of a second, translating into approximately a 30 cm error range. GPS has a margin of error that’s almost ten times greater.
The satellites themselves are in a higher orbit than those used for GPS, giving them a wider cone of vision and more comprehensive global coverage. This means that the system will be fully available in even the most remote areas of the world.
Another difference from GPS is that Galileo is capable of two-way communication, thanks to numerous ground stations. This makes it well suited to search and rescue operations. The satellites can pick up distress beacons in remote areas, then send the beacon feedback that confirms that the distress signal was received, and that help is on the way.
The basic service from Galileo will be fully available to consumers, so long as they own mass market devices that are capable of using it.
At Round Solutions, we’re already prepared for Galileo to go live. Our most important products are already outfitted with the features they need to take advantage of Galileo’s superior positioning accuracy. We have Telit modules, terminal-modems, and antennas available that are completely Galileo-ready, allowing our customers to experience the satellite system’s considerable power firsthand.