December 28, 2005

GALILEO, GALILEO:

A European satellite shot into space Wednesday to launch the EU’s $4 billion US planned rival to the United States’ Global Positioning System. . . .

The European Union started the program out of concern that GPS, because of its military focus, could be cut off in some cases. Last year, U.S. President George W. Bush ordered plans for temporarily disabling GPS satellites during national crises to prevent terrorists from using the technology.

The European Space Agency says it will guarantee operation at all times, except in case of “the direst emergency.” It also says users would be notified of satellite problems within seconds.

A bit more background, here.

UPDATE: E.U. Referendum has much more:

This was Professor Heinz Wofis, former head of the European manned space programme, who cast doubt on the validity of the project, dismissing it as a “largely political” exercise, reflecting the nascent anti-Americanism of the EU, and arguing that costs had been underestimated. He suggested that the real cost could be as much as five times the headline figure.

Where, of course, the EU plans to make the system work financially is by using its regulatory power. It plans to make the system compulsory for its Single European Sky project, railway signalling systems and for road charging. Irrespective of the fact that an upgraded US system will be provided free of charge, the EU plans to levy users and thereby recover its costs though these means, effectively imposing a user tax on EU member states and their commercial enterprises.

Then there is also the payback in sales of military technology using GPS, which explains why, in particular, French aerospace contractors are so keen on the system, attracting the support of French defence minister Alliot Marie.

None of this, perforce, finds its way into today’s media coverage, which emphasises the “touchy feely” aspects, such as the mobile phones that “will enable people to determine their exact position, down to the very meter (sic), free of charge,” without also stating that such systems have their “big brother” aspect in that they will enable the authorities to keep track of everyone using such a system.

Read the whole thing.