Galileo is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) currently being built by the European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA). The €5 billion project is named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. One of the aims of Galileo is to provide a high-precision positioning system upon which European nations can rely, independently from the Russian GLONASS, US GPS, and Chinese Compass systems, which can be disabled in times of war or conflict. Tests in February 2014 found that for Galileo’s search and rescue function, operating as part of the existing International Cospas-Sarsat Programme, 77% of simulated distress locations can be pinpointed within 2 km, and 95% within 5 km.
In operation Galileo will use two ground operations centres, near Munich in Germany and in Fucino in Italy. In December 2010 EU ministers in Brussels voted Prague in the Czech Republic as the headquarters of the Galileo project.
On 21 October 2011 the first two of four operational satellites were launched to validate the system. The next two followed on 12 October 2012, making it “possible to test Galileo end-to-end”. Once this In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase has been completed, additional satellites will be launched to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) around mid-decade. The first determination of a position relying on signals emitted only from Galileo satellites was achieved on 12 March 2013. Full completion of the 30-satellite Galileo system (27 operational and three active spares) is expected by 2019.
Basic navigation services will be free of charge. Galileo is intended to provide horizontal and vertical position measurements within 1-metre precision, and better positioning services at high latitudes than other positioning systems. As a further feature, Galileo will provide a unique global search and rescue (SAR) function. Satellites will be equipped with a transponder which will relay distress signals from the user’s transmitter to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which will then initiate the rescue operation. At the same time, the system will provide a signal to the users, informing them that their situation has been detected and that help is on the way. This latter feature is new and is considered a major upgrade compared to the existing GPS and GLONASS navigation systems, which do not provide feedback to the user. The use of basic (low-precision) Galileo services will be free and open to everyone. The high-precision capabilities will be available for paying commercial users and for military use.