Galileo has now 18 operational satellites in orbit that deliver the high precision positioning Galileo promised. At first the signals might be a little weak but will be boosted with help from satellites in the US military-run GPS system, and grow stronger over time. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Galileo should be fully operational by 2020, providing time and positioning data of unprecedented accuracy. Once complete, the system will consist of 24 operational satellites (30 in total) and ground infrastructure for the provision of positioning, navigation and timing services.
Europe's Galileo satnav system promises to outperform US and Russian rivals while boosting regional self-reliance. The civil-controlled service is also of great strategic importance for Europe, which relies on two military-run services - GPS and Russia's GLONASS. Both these systems provide no guarantee of uninterrupted service. Galileo will be interoperable with these, but also completely autonomous.
Satellite navigation works by using ultra-precise clocks in orbit broadcasting their time and position to Earth via radio waves travelling at the speed of light. The system's groundbreaking accuracy is the result of some of the most accurate atomic clocks ever to be used for a navigation system. There is one atomic clock in each satellite that is accurate to one second in three million years. A billionth-of-a-second clock error in a navigation system can result in a positioning error of up to 30 centimetres (12 inches).
Galileo also has more satellites than either GPS or GLONASS, with better signals that carry more information. With these features, Galileo's free Open Service will be able to track positions to within a metre, compared to several metres for GPS and GLONASS. Its signal will eventually reach areas where which have not been possible soo far i.e. inside traffic tunnels and on roads where high buildings shield radio waves from some satellites. A paying service will allow clients to track locations even closer, to within centimetres, and governments will have access to an encrypted continued service for use in times of crisis.
Another important service using Galileo would be search and rescue. Currently, satnav technology can take up to three hours to track a person to within a 10-kilometre (six-mile) range. With Galileo's Search and Rescue Service, the detection time is reduced to 10 minutes and the localisation is reduced to less than five kilometres.
This project has received funding from the European GNSS Agency under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 641606.