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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 [sic], 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.
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.
Full article: Europe’s Newly Launched Satellite Navigation System is Precise down to a few Centimeters (NextGov)