EU launches second test satellite for Galileo

Giove-B, the second and last test satellite, will test the atomic clock and signal transmission of Europe's troubled satellite navigation program.

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Jennifer Guevin
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The European Union on Sunday launched Giove-B, the second (and last) test satellite in its $5.3 billion Galileo project, according to Reuters.

The first test satellite, Giove-A, was launched in December 2005. Giove-B will test the program's high-precision atomic clock and signal transmission, Reuters reported.

Galileo is Europe's upcoming satellite radio navigation system, and it's the EU's largest space program. Galileo will eventually become an ultraprecise system of 30 satellites, but it has hit a few bumps along the way.

The fully deployed Galileo system planned will consist of 30 satellites, positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit planes. European Space Agency

The project's launch date has been pushed back several times, from the original goal of 2008 to the current goal of 2013. And unlike the United States' Global Positioning System, or GPS, which was designed primarily as a military system with a free public side to it, Galileo was initially conceived of as a largely commercial venture. But the project proved too ambitious to be sustained by the original public-private partnership.

After some companies pulled out of the project, the EU voted to put more public funding toward it. Now even that support isn't guaranteed. Fears that the project might spiral out of financial control prompted some U.K. lawmakers last November to call for a complete review of the United Kingdom's involvement in the program.

Uncertainty about when Galileo will actually be up and running, and how effective it will be compared to GPS, has reportedly caused confusion among some companies in the mobile industry, who have been unsure which technology to support in their products (or whether they should support both).

And while Galileo is still getting off the ground, demand for phones with GPS services is skyrocketing. The number of GPS-enabled handsets is expected to more than triple during the next five years, according to analysts. The rise of such devices in Europe will increase 18-fold by 2012.

Although it has been a rocky road for the Galileo program, EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot told Reuters that high demand for navigational services means that Galileo has the potential to be profitable from the get-go.