Europe's GPS alternative fuels transatlantic debate
By 2006, rockets are scheduled to begin lifting off to carry 30 European satellites into orbit. The satellites will emit signals that will allow people with receiversdrivers, sailors, rescue workers and pilots, for exampleto determine their precise locations on Earth.
It is similar to what the U.S. Global Positioning System already does, and the pending launch of a rival is fueling a new transatlantic dispute, according to news reports in the Washington Post. U.S. officials have called Europe's $3.2 billion Galileo project wasteful and say Europe could better spend the money upgrading its armed forces. But European governments argue that Galileo is crucial to the future of their high-tech industries and to loosening their dependence on the United States.
Transportation ministers of the 15 European Union countries approved the project in March. Now U.S. and EU officials are meeting to see whether they can make the systems compatible and ensure a standard receiving unit could work with both systems. The satellite project also could become a trade dispute if the United States concludes that its companies are being unfairly cut out of Galileo-related business.
The decision to proceed was reached after months of political debate in Europe. Jacques Chirac, the French president, had warned that failure to advance the project would leave Europe a "vassal of the United States." Italy and Spain were also strong supporters, but Britain and the Netherlands expressed doubt about the need for and the economic prospects of such a system.
Advocates of Galileo see enormous industrial and commercial potential. They often compare Galileo to two of Europe's technology success storiesAirbus Industrie, an aircraft manufacturer, and Arianespace, a rocket consortium.
The European Commission, the European Union's executive body, has described Galileo and the contracts it will generate as "vital for the future of the European high-tech industries." GPS consists of a "constellation" of 24 satellites owned by the U.S. government.
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