On Wednesday, a Russian rocket launched from Kazakhstan carried into orbit a Galileo navigation satellite that marked the start of the European Union's "most ambitious space project" ever: a "satellite system, due to go into service in 2008, [that] will be able to pinpoint an object to within one meter, while GPS is precise to within five meters."  --  Though ostensibly commercial, the Pentagon fears its potential military uses, as well as Chinese participation in the project, the Financial Times (UK) reported.  --  Except for the nationalistic Le Figaro, the Financial Times's description of French media reaction as "ecstatic" is a considerable exaggeration. -- The headlines of some French articles on the launch: "Galileo Attacks the Monopoly of America's GPS (Le Figaro), "An Ambitious Economic Gamble" (Le Figaro), "Europe Launches the First Link of Constellation Galileo" {Le Monde), "Galileo: Launch of the First Satellite" {Lib√©ration)....


By George Parker (Brussels) and John Thornhill (Paris)

Financial Times (UK)
December 28, 2005


The European Union fired its first Galileo navigation satellite into space on Wednesday, in a direct challenge to the dominance of the U.S. military's Global Positioning System.

A Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan carried into orbit the first of 30 Galileo satellites, marking the deployment phase of Europe's most ambitious space project.

The launch of the highly accurate system was hailed in Brussels and Paris as an emblem of European co-operation, but its development is viewed with concern in Washington.

Although Galileo is intended for civilian use, the U.S. fears it could also play a military role. Concerns were heightened when China became a partner in its development.

The 3.6bn-euro ($4.3bn, £2.5bn) satellite system, due to go into service in 2008, will be able to pinpoint an object to within one meter, while GPS is precise to within five meters.

Jacques Barrot, the EU transport commissioner, said Galileo would be used in car navigation systems, air traffic control, tracking dangerous cargoes, and for many other purposes.

"The launch today is the proof that Europe can deliver ambitious projects to the benefit of its citizens and companies," he said.

EU officials say the project could create 140,000 jobs in Europe and tap into a world market for navigational services worth as much as 300bn euros by 2020.

After a dispiriting year for the European Union, marked by political divisions and the rejection in France and the Netherlands of a draft constitution, Galileo is seen in Brussels as a symbol of a brighter future.

The project was proposed by the European Commission and receives EU funding, but it is now being taken forward by some of Europe's biggest aerospace companies.

European Union leaders argue the world should not be dependent on one satellite navigation service, which could be switched off by the U.S. military in a crisis.

The European challenge to U.S. dominance in space has been welcomed ecstatically in France, where the launch of the 600kg British-built Giove-A satellite made front-page news.

"Political Europe may have stalled, but technological Europe advances," Le Figaro newspaper said.

Jacques Chirac, France's president, expressed his "very great satisfaction" at the successful satellite launch. "Space is an essential component of the great European project," he said.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, foreign minister, added: "It is at the same time independence for our country, independence for the European Union, and a scientific success superior to that of the Americans," he said.

Although Galileo is a civil project, French analysts said it could be used for sending military signals, lessening army dependence on GPS.

However, the U.K. has long opposed any military applications for Galileo and any change in its status would have to be approved by all 25 EU members.

GPS is offered free and will soon be upgraded, but the EU has succeeded in signing up China, India, and Israel among its partners in developing Galileo.