EU launches free satellite system to fine-tune GPS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union launched a free satellite navigation network on Thursday that could help pilots, drivers and blind people by fine-tuning the accuracy of the U.S. global positioning system (GPS) to around 2 meters.

The EGNOS system will use three satellites and 34 ground stations to narrow the horizontal accuracy of GPS from around 7 meters previously and improve its vertical accuracy to help pilots during landings.

The “Safety-of-Life” service for aircraft navigation could be in place next year, the EU executive said in a statement.

Farmers could also benefit from improved precision for spraying fertilizers, and new applications could emerge on roads, such as automatic tolling and pay-per-use car insurance.

“It will make all personal navigation applications much more precise, giving birth to new possibilities like guiding aids for blind people,” the Commission said.

The system was pioneered by the Commission, the European Space Agency and aviation safety authority Eurocontrol.

It paves the way for the better known Galileo project, a European satellite system which will rival GPS and could be up and running in 2014.

The 4 billion euro ($5.8 billion) Galileo project, Europe’s biggest single space program, has been plagued by delays and squabbling over funding that ended only when the EU agreed to fund it from the public purse.