The $4.3 billion Galileo project will eventually use about 30 satellites and end Europe's reliance on the GPS system, which is controlled by the U.S. military.
Galileo will more than double GPS coverage, providing satellite navigation for people from motorists to sailors to mapmakers. In particular, Galileo is expected to improve coverage in high-latitude areas such as northern Europe.
In orbit, the satellite will test atomic clocks and navigation signals, secure Galileo's frequencies in space and allow scientists to monitor how radiation affects the craft.
Galileo is under civilian control. The European Space Agency says it can guarantee operation at all times, except in cases of the "direst emergency." It also says users would be notified of any potential satellite problems within seconds.
A second satellite named "Giove B" is scheduled to be placed in orbit this spring. Two more satellites will then be launched in 2008 to complete the testing phase, which requires at least four satellites in orbit to guarantee an exact position and time anywhere on earth.
Six non-EU nations — China, India, Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine have joined the program set up by the European Commission and European Space Agency, and discussions are underway with other countries to take part.
The EU is to allocate an initial $1.2 billion from its 2007-2013 budget to fund deployment and commercial operations of the satellite system. The private sector will contribute two-thirds of the funds for the project, which is expected to create more than 150,000 jobs in Europe alone.
Last year, the EU and United States struck a deal to make Galileo compatible with the U.S. GPS system, ending a trans-Atlantic feud over the issue.
The Pentagon had initially criticized Galileo as unnecessary and a potential security threat during wartime, saying its signals could interfere with the next-generation GPS signals intended for use by the U.S. military.
SSTL staff had gathered at their Guildford base to watch the lift-off on a TV link from Baikonur.
Mission will trial technologies for future Galileo satellites
Will transmit sat-nav signals to claim frequencies for Galileo
Has instruments to assess radiation in 23,222km orbit
(1) Power demand of 660W through 4.54m-long arrays
(2) Butane propulsion system; tanks hold up to 50kg of fuel
(3) Antenna system to transmit signals for ground testing
(4) Payload has rubidium clocks and signal-generation units
"Three years ago I did a sketch of what I thought we could do. To go from that sketch to what we have now is amazing," recalled John Paffett, projects director with SSTL.
"It's not over yet - there's a lot of hard work to go ahead - but it's definitely a monumental occasion," he told the BBC News website.
Professor Martin Sweeting, the CEO of SSTL, added: "This is going to be Europe's largest space project. As a relatively small company - we're an SME of 200 people, specialising in small and rapid-response spacecraft - to take the vanguard of such a large programme is quite an experience."
Giove-A will check out the in-orbit performance of two atomic clocks - critical to any sat-nav system - and a number of other components that will be incorporated into the 30 satellites of the fully fledged Galileo constellation.
These spacecraft - four of which have already been ordered - are expected all to be in orbit by the end of 2010.
THE SAT-NAV FUTURE
Navigation for navigation's sake will not drive applications
Uptake pushed forward by services that add value to data
Huge potential for internet-linked services run off mobiles
E.g. finding a restaurant, and directing you to nearest ATM
Multimedia delivered to tourists' mobiles as they walk around
'Guardian angel' services will locate separated children
Possibilities are endless; mobile firms already brainstorming
Database and billing companies planning for large markets
To do this, a sat-nav signal of the correct structure must be received on Earth by June 2006. The SSTL team believes it can complete this task within the first couple of weeks of flight.
Galileo is a joint venture between the European Union and the European Space Agency.
Once fully deployed, the new system should revolutionise the way we use precise timing and location signals delivered from space.
"We are aiming to provide one-metre, worldwide accuracy through Galileo's 'open' service - this is not possible today without regional or local augmentation," said Esa's Galileo project manager, Javier Benedicto.
"With the use of three signals, we will have access to centimetre accuracies, and with these you will see many more services than you have today; and European industry is working to develop those applications."
In few years' time, a small Galileo chip will be integrated in mobile phones, giving users the ability to pinpoint restaurants, hotels, movie theatres, hospitals or car parks.
Galileo will deliver the tools national governments need to introduce wide-scale road charging.
The network will also underpin Europe's new air-traffic control system. The single European sky initiative will overhaul current technologies used to keep planes at safe separations, and allow pilots to fly their own routes and altitudes.
SSTL hopes a successful mission for Giove-A will bring more orders for sat-nav and other spacecraft.
"This is very good for our development," explained Max Meerman, a principal engineer with the company.
"It's the biggest satellite we've done so far, it's got big deployable tracking-arrays that we haven't done before, and it cost 28m euros (£19m; $33m)."
HOW SATELLITE NAVIGATION WORKS
Satellite navigation systems determine a position by measuring the distances to at least three known locations - the Galileo satellites
The distance to one satellite defines a sphere of possible solutions; the distance to three defines a single, common area
The accuracy of the distance measurements determines how small the common area is and thus the accuracy of the final location
In practice, a receiver captures atomic-clock time signals sent from the satellites and converts them into the respective distances
Time measurement is improved by including the signal from a fourth satellite. 'Galileo time' is monitored from the ground
Source: BBC and Mosnews
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16