What’s a 16th century scientist got to do with technology?
I see what you’re thinking but this isn’t the Galileo from Pisa but Europe’s proposed global navigation satellite network. Perhaps the European Union (EU) is hoping it’ll live up to the Italian’s great legacy.

Why does Europe need a satellite network?
The EU feels European sat-nav users need an alternative to the US GPS or Russia’s Glonass military satellite networks for navigating around the continent.

Is it really that important?
Well, the EU argues that satellites have become the standard way of navigating on the road as well as for ships and planes. As its use spreads further the problems created through a loss of signal satellite will become greater.

So is it a new idea?
The need for a European global satellite navigation system was first identified in the mid-1990s when the EU got together with the European Space Agency (ESA) to build a civilian-controlled satellite network.

So what’s wrong with GPS?
The Global Positioning System (GPS) network is run by the US military and although it can be used around the world, Galileo is intended to be Europe’s independent civilian equivalent.

There are other benefits with Galileo, such as better coverage in northern Europe due to a greater inclination of the Galileo satellites to the equator and greater accuracy – a claimed one metre compared to the five metres for GPS.

The EU also hopes Galileo will create opportunities for business to exploit, such as application providers and service operators.

Such as?
Well the UK has plans to use it for electronic ‘pay per mile’ road use charging by 2014 as it’s cheaper than other tech available and more accurate than GPS.

The European transport Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, has suggested the system could be used for border control, financial operations and surveillance of infrastructures.

The system also incorporates a search and rescue function which transfers distress signals to rescue co-ordination centres around Europe.

How’s this all going to work?
The network will eventually consist of 30 satellites with 27 operational devices and three spares. This compares to just 24 for GPS.

There should eventually be three Galileo control centres (GCCs) for the navigation mission management of the network. There will also be around 20 Galileo sensor stations around the globe which interact with the satellites and send data to GCCs.

But when is it going to be ready to roll?
Ah well that’s the billion dollar (or should that be Euro) question. Galileo hasn’t exactly been the smoothest project in the world with budgetary and policy complications holding it up.

What complications?
In May 2007 the European Commission said the Galileo roadmap for public/private partnerships needed a rethink if the project was to be fully operational by the 2012 deadline.

The issue stemmed from a lack of progress in negotiations for the private sector work around infrastructure.

At the time, it was reported the EU needed euro;2.4bn in public funds to complete the project. However, most of this now appears to have been sourced.

What else is holding it up?
There was an issue last year when Spain demanded a ground control station to be located within its borders in addition to the two already set for Germany, Munich and Rome.

This was resolved in November when Spain was offered a deal whereby a secondary ground station – initially to monitor emergency service operations – could become a ground control station if the upgrade was funded by the country.

How far has the Galileo project progressed now?
The first experimental satellite Giove A (Galileo in-orbit validation element) was launched in December 2005 and Giove B is due to launch in spring 2008. The aim is to get four operational satellites going during 2008/9, followed by an in-orbit validation phase.

Who’s put money into the pot?
The project is a joint initiative of the European Commission and ESA with countries including France, Germany and Italy having also stumped up funds.

What about the UK?
Well the government put around euro;31m into the pot in the summer of 2006, which is equivalent to the other major European nations.

UK businesses are also heavily involved with LogicaCMG and Astrium UK partners in Galileo Industries, the consortium involved in building the four test satellites. Surrey Satellite Technology has also been involved.

Is this really going to be worth the effort?
Despite the problems, EU research suggests European citizens are “highly positive” about Galileo with 80 per cent (of 26,000 surveyed) saying the system is worth pursuing. And nearly two-thirds of respondents said extra public funding should be found to keep the project alive.