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Galileo satnav

The first satellite of Galileo, the EU’s competitor to GPS, was launched yesterday – initially to test out the kit, with the service planned to go online in 2010. One of the explicitly stated aims is provide independence from reliance on the US government, since GPS is a military system that is made available for civil users at the discretion of the government and, presumably, the Pentagon. I’m always intrigued when interaction between Europe and America slips into rival-Great-Powers mode, rather than the usual closest-allies shtick.

In practical terms the project sounds pretty sane to me anyway (not that that I know much about these things). In future, I’m sure all the devices that currently use GPS will be designed to use both – Galileo is designed for compatibility with GPS anyway – and the number of GPS-equipped things will increase for some time yet. The combination of GPS and Galileo will provide better accuracy than either of them alone and will provide backup if either goes offline for whatever reason. So it’s not a redundant system just reproducing the functionality of GPS.

Whether all that justifies the cost is another question. €3.4bn sounds a lot, but it pales in comparison to the €50bn for the Common Agricultural Policy this year. I think it’s probably a good idea, but then I am a bit of a geek.

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