The European Space Agency (ESA) has reached an agreement with its member states and the European Union for the development of the Galileo satellite-based navigation system, which will rival the US Global Positioning System (GPS).
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The agreement comes just weeks ahead of an international conference where frequencies for the EU system and power levels for the next generation of GPS satellites will be determined.
The ESA said that the agreementclears the way for the formation of the Galileo Joint Undertaking, which will have the task of co-ordinating the development and deployment of the Galileo system.
"This is a great day for Europe in general and its space community in particular," said ESA director general Antonio Rodota.
"Conscious of the economic, industrial and strategic importance of satellite navigation, our member states have reached agreement in the common interest. We are now able to continue with Galileo, a major program from which all citizens will benefit. Galileo is definitely a reality."
US officials had expressed concerns about the European system, saying they feared that it might interfere with GPS, which is used to guide "smart" weapons by the military.
ESA spokesman Dominique Detain said Galileo will cost $3.7bn. The agency expected to launch the first of 30 satellites (27 active and three spares) in 2006, with the final system completed in 2008.
Since Galileo will transmit its signals within the same 1164-to-1559-MHz frequency band now used by GPS, GPS consultants expect the EU system will lead to development of receivers that can pick up signals from both systems, providing better availability and, potentially, improved accuracy.
Before the ESA can proceed, it must first obtain the rights to the frequencies.
Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld