Galileo is a satellite navigation system currently being built by the European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA). The €20 billion project is named after the famous 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.
When in operation it will use two ground operations centers near Munich, Germany and in Fucino, Italy. On 21 October 2011 the first two of four operational satellites were launched to validate the system. The next two will follow in 2012. Once this In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase has been completed, additional satellites will be launched to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) around mid-decade. Full completion of the 30 satellites Galileo system (27 operational + 3 active spares) is expected by 2019.
Galileo will be a free service. It is intended to provide horizontal and vertical positions measurements within 1 meter 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 is able to transfer the 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 user, 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.
The first satellites bear the names of eleven-year-old Thijs from Belgium and nine-year-old Natalia from Bulgaria who are the first winners of the European Comission's Galileo children's drawing competition. Competition winners from the remaining 25 Member States will name the satellites which will be launched until 2019.