The stakes just got higher

Published: Sunday 30 November 2003

-- (Credit: European Space Agency)On October 30, 2003, China and the European Union (eu) signed an agreement committing the former to a stake in the Galileo satellite navigation system. At a high-level ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing -- also attended by Chinese premier Wen Jaibao, European Commission (ec) president Romano Prodi and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, currently eu president -- China pledged 200 million euros (us $230) towards the navigation project.

Add to this money another 300 million euro (us $350 million). This is the amount India's foreign minister Yashwant Sinha pledged to the project when he went to Brussels in the same week. Galileo, according to the minister, would be one of the subjects to be discussed at an eu-India summit in New Delhi next month. Clearly, the stakes are getting higher. "Third countries are more enthusiastic than certain European countries about Galileo," eu Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said, referring ironically to wrangling in the 15-member bloc about funding for the project.

Galileo, scheduled to be operational by 2008, is being designed to rival the us global positioning system (gps). It will encircle the earth with 30 satellites in medium Earth orbit. It should provide users -- aircraft, shipping, cars and trekkers -- with a navigational fix accurate to within just one metre. At present, the us gps is the only global satellite navigation system available to civilians, but it is accurate only to 100 metres for civilians and 22 metres for the military, and is under Pentagon's control.

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