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Contact: Karina De Castris
European Space Agency

First Galileo satellites named

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In the years to come, no fewer than 30 European navigation satellites will be launched into orbit around the Earth. One landmark of this ambitious project passed on 9 November, when the first pair of test satellites were named GIOVE (Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element).

Today, travellers rely on satellite receivers to find their precise positions on the Earth. At present, everyone has to use signals from American or Russian satellites, but this is about to change. When the Galileo constellation is fully deployed, Europe will have its own highly accurate, non-military system of satellite navigation.

The first stage in the creation of this hi-tech swarm is the launch of two spacecraft that will try out the new technologies. The first of these, GIOVE A, is undergoing final preparations at the ESA-ESTEC facilities in the Netherlands. It will be launched on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at the end of December 2005. GIOVE B will follow next year.

The spacecraft are named in honour of the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) who discovered four satellites orbiting Jupiter. Galileo realised that tables listing when the moons would disappear behind Jupiter would provide a 'clock' that could be used anywhere in the world. The tables describing the motions of the satellites Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were used to calculate positions at sea and on land.


Today, Galileo's name is linked to another revolution in navigation, the advanced satellite positioning system supported by the European Commission and the European Space Agency.