Last Thursday marked a major milestone in the Galileo satellite project when the Giove-A "demonstrator" began to broadcast the first validation signals which will enable the European satnav initiative to claim its frequencies.
The satellite's designers, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), confirmed to the BBC that the ground stations in the UK and Belgium had, indeed, picked up the broadcasts. The company's Philip Davies told the corporation: "Thursday was the first day when the first actual Galileo signal was sent from space to Earth. If you had receiving equipment, you could have picked it up anywhere on Earth within visibility of the satellite - we picked it up in the UK at the Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire."
Giove-A was launched on 28 December atop a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome and is currently enjoying the view from 23,000 km (c. 14,300 miles) above the Earth's surface. Mr Davies said "people had been working around the clock at the control room in Guildford, Surrey, to check out the satellite's payload".
The signals so far emitted will now be analysed to ensure they meet the International Telecommunications Union's criteria. Assuming they do, the 3.4bn-euro (£2.3bn / $4bn) joint European Space Agency/European Commission project promises a powerful satellite navigation system free of US hegemony. China, Israel and Ukraine - the first three non-European nations to sign up to Galileo - were last week joined by South Korea.
All being well, the entire 30-satellite Galileo system should be entirely functional by 2010. ®