Europe's Newly Launched Satellite Navigation System Is Precise Down to a Few Centimeters

This is after 17 years of development and billions spent.

We tend to use “GPS” the way we use “Kleenex” or “Band-Aid”—as a brand name substitute for the generic “satellite navigation system.” But the Global Positioning System is actually quite specific: It’s a constellation of 27 satellites and a global network of control facilities on the ground developed and operated by the Defense Department.

There are other sat-nav systems, though, and since 2011, most sat-nav consumer devices, including Apple’s and Samsung’s, have receivers for both the U.S. GPS and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System, or GLONASS—a 24-satellite network operated by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. (There are other regional systems, like the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System and China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System; but GPS and GLONASS are the only fully global networks.)

Besides helping you find the nearest coffeeshop, this combined sat-nav system also makes the economy run efficiently, powering key aspects of sectors ranging from farming and mining to the financial markets and power grids that rely on the system for precision time syncing. It’s completely free to use and it works great; anyone with a GPS and/or GLONASS receiver can find their exact position on Earth, accurate to about a dozen feet.

Now, Europe has decided it can do better. After 17 years of development and billions spent, on Dec. 15, the European Union flipped the switch and turned on Galileo, its own satellite navigation system. Right now, it includes 18 live satellites, but by 2020 there will be 24—and when the system is at 100 percent, it should be accurate to within three feet, AFP reports.

There will also be a sort of “professional” version of the system that, the European Space Agency says, will be precise to within centimeters. In large part, this is thanks to the mind-boggling precision of the atomic clocks carried on its satellites, which are accurate to 1 second in 3 million years.

All that is fantastic, but perhaps the most important part about Galileo has nothing to do with technology. What really matters: It’s the first sat-nav system managed by civilians.

GPS is a U.S. military invention developed during the Cold War. It was launched in 1978 and remains under the operational control of the Air Force Space Command. Likewise, GLONASS is controlled by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces.

Galileo unshackles European citizenry and industry from the U.S. and Russian systems, and, as AFP points out, gives Europe security from potential strategic restrictions—such as in times of war. In 2014, for example, the Kremlin threatened to shut down U.S. GPS receivers on Russian soil in response to disputes over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In a time of particularly acute global political uncertainty, Galileo offers real technological security.

As a civilian-run system, it also puts civilian needs first—unlike GPS, which offers more accurate services to the U.S. military. Galileo also offers specific amenities to government agencies, like an encrypted channel for emergency services.

It’s not quite there yet—for now, only devices with Galileo-specific receiving chips can pick up the signal, and there are still six more satellites to launch. But when complete, it’ll likely be the best of the three global positioning systems. Eventually, most consumer devices with sat-nav built in will likely include Galileo receivers. Already, all cars manufactured in Europe will be required to have them by 2018.

So really, the commencement of Galileo is a boon to us all. Whatever Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin decide to do, we’ll still be able to find our way home.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.