European Parliament backs Galileo satellite program
The network of 30 GPS satellites is set to be in operation by 2008
IDG News Service - The European Parliament gave its backing to the Galileo satellite program today, as the European commissioner for transport, Loyola de Palacio, prepares for a trip to Washington to discuss Europe's geopositioning system ambitions with the Bush administration.
An overwhelming majority of European parliamentarians supported a declaration in favor of Galileo, a network of 30 satellites due to start operating in 2008 around the world. The European Commission, the European Union's executive body, believes Galileo will revolutionize the telecommunications, transport, agriculture and fishing industries.
The parliament stressed that the satellite system will have enormous significance for the EU's industrial, transportation, technological and environmental development.
De Palacio said earlier this month that her U.S. counterparts have softened their objections to Galileo and that she hopes to sign a cooperation agreement with the U.S. in the coming months.
U.S. officials have questioned the need for Galileo, saying the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) can serve everyone's needs. They viewed the European project as a rival and discouraged the EU from pursuing it.
However, momentum behind Galileo is growing. There are no remaining funding obstacles from EU member states, and the project got a boost last fall when China agreed to cooperate in its financing and development.
Earlier this month, de Palacio said positive statements in recent weeks by U.S. officials "reinforce the EU's goal of defining, together with our U.S. partners, the standard for the best possible civil system for the benefit of users worldwide."
De Palacio's meetings in Washington will focus on how Galileo will co-exist with the GPS. One fundamental difference between the two systems is that the GPS is used partly for military purposes, while Galileo is being designed exclusively for civilian needs.
Europeans' concerns about the dual use of GPS stem from the ability of the U.S. government to render it less useful for commercial than military use. Until the first Gulf War in 1991, a feature of GPS called Selective Availability (SA) degraded GPS signals received by commercial GPS equipment. Due to a lack of military GPS receivers during the war and the need to outfit some U.S. troops with commercial receivers, SA was turned off at that time, yielding an improved signal for commerical users of GPS, according to a Rand Corp. history of the technology's use.
In May 2000, President Bill Clinton ordered SA discontinued.
De Palacio will seek to ensure that whatever agreement she and the U.S. reach, the exclusively civilian purpose of Galileo will be maintained.
Galileo heralds the advent of a technological revolution similar to the one sparked by mobile phones, the commission claimedrecently.
"To date, this technology, which promises to be highly profitable, is only mastered by the United States' GPS system and Russia's GLONASS system, both of which are financed and controlled by the military authorities," the commission said.
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