Galileo (EU GPS System) on track for 2014

The European Union signed key contracts today for Galileo, the long-delayed European GPS system it claims will be better and more reliable than the American system, the BBC reports.

Under the $811 million contract, a German-British consortium will produce 14 satellites, which will be launched by Russian-built Soyuz rockets.

In announcing the contracts, EU Vice President Antonio Tajani says Galileo will “help ensure Europe’s political independence in an area which has become very important from an economic, social and security point of view,” BusinessWeek reports.

The BBC says signing the contracts means Galileo will be fully operational by 2014, with at least 16 satellites in orbit.

It reports that? “more advanced technology” should give users “quicker, more reliable fixes and enable them to locate their positions with an error of 1 meter, compared with the current GPS error of several meters.”

Flightglobal notes there was no word today on when Galileo will be fully operational worldwide, since that would require at least 24 spacecraft and as many as 32.

The BBC says Galileo will offer five services:

Open access navigation, for mass market use that will pinpoint location to within 1 meter.
Encrypted commercial navigation, with accuracy to 1 centimeter.
Safety of life navigation for applications requiring accuracy. The system will include integrity messages to warn of errors.
Encrypted public regulation navigation, mainly for government agencies? that will assure continuous availability in times of crisis.
A search-and-rescue system that will pick up distress beacon locations and send feedback and confirming messages that help is on the way.