Europe's GPS satellites blast off

The first two satellites in the EU's GPS program are launched

Europe's GPS program, Galileo, became a reality on Friday with the launch of its two first operational satellites from the European Space Station in Kourou, French Guiana.

Galileo, which will begin operating in 2014, is expected to generate economic and social benefits worth around €60 billion (US$82.5 billion) to €90 billion over the next 20 years. However the project got off to a shaky start in 2008 and has been dogged by arguments over funding ever since.

"The challenge now is to ensure sufficient funding in the future. Galileo must be operational as quickly as possible. We cannot risk losing ground to our global competitors," said Herbert Reul, chairman of the European Parliament's industry, research and energy committee. A recent budget proposal has earmarked €7 billion to implement and operate Galileo.

Galileo combines the most precise atomic clock ever flown for navigation -- accurate to one second in three million years -- with a powerful transmitter to broadcast navigation data worldwide. The first satellites were taken into orbit on a Soyuz rocket and will be followed by two more next year. These will carry out the orbit validation phase, but in all, 30 satellites will be deployed.

"Today's launch is a major step for Europe and its citizens. It is of strategic importance, not only for the competitiveness of our industry and for job creation, but also to ensure Europe's independence in space technology and policy," said Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso. "It will benefit companies ranging from shipping, fleet management, finance, electricity and telecommunications. Space related activities are also key for Europe's 2020 strategy by creating high skilled jobs, commercial opportunities and boosting innovation all over Europe."

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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