Transatlantic rivalry spills into space

Space is the latest arena of rivalry between the United States and the European Union. And, the issue: a satellite navigation entity that will end the monopoly of the US’ Global Positioning System (GPS).

Galileo is 10 times more accurate than the US' GPS

The EU’s Galileo threatens US dominance in space. If all goes according to plan, the new system comprising an array of 30 satellites will be up in space by 2008.


Galileo will offer services that would aid navigation and calculate the exact position of objects on the ground to an unprecedented accuracy. The system is planned to be so precise that it can even guide a blind man through a normally busy street.


But the US is not happy. Secretary of State Colin Powell has reportedly sent missives to a dozen European Union countries to give up the programme.




The fear in Washington is that Galileo might interfere with the working of the GPS, thereby reducing its reliability.


Another peg on which the US hangs its discomfort is the fact that Galileo will be controlled and managed by a civilian authority. It fears the system could get into the hands of vested interests over which governments will have no control.


The US is worried over the EUability to take on GPS
The US is worried over the EUability to take on GPS

The US is worried over the EU
ability to take on GPS

Alternatively, it has suggested that Galileo be dove-tailed into the overall GPS system in order to avoid signal interference.


The EU so far has disregarded Washington’s fears. Its worry is more commercial in nature – the 3.4 billion euros needed for the project and its marketability.


The project appeared to be slacking when Galileo’s fortunes received a major boost – China and India said they were interested in buying stakes in it. This has injected a newfound enthusiasm. While China has agreed to pay 300 million euros, India is likely to follow suit with 200 million euros.


More importantly, with these two countries buying stakes in the project, besides the funds a huge market is assured. This has given a fillip to Galileo. “Third countries are more enthusiastic than certain European countries about Galileo,” reports quoted EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio as saying.


Indian External Affairs Yashwant Sinha reportedly pledged India’s willingness to pick up a Galileo stake in meetings with EU officials during his recent visit to Brussels. The issue is expected to be followed up and agreed upon during the EU-India summit in New Delhi on 28-29 November.




When contacted by, Indian government officials were cagey about commenting on the issue. Negotiations on the issue were reportedly at a sensitive stage. But the development is being viewed positively as it will ensure that the country is not dependent on a single country, the US, for its navigational needs.


China and India have boostedfortunes of Galileo project
China and India have boostedfortunes of Galileo project

China and India have boosted
fortunes of Galileo project

Another imperative is the fact of China going for Galileo which has made it politically and strategically necessary for New Delhi to follow suit.


The GPS uses an atomic clock and radio waves from the array of satellites fixed in Earth’s orbit to accurately calculate the position of objects on the ground, as well as time, day and night, all regardless of weather conditions.  


It was developed in the ‘70s by the United States military and used extensively in combat.  Washington has allowed the system to be used by other countries free of cost. But the overall control is with the Pentagon.


Galileo is a similar system with an accuracy 10 times that of the GPS.


Galileo versus GPS is the latest in a recent list of strong disagreements between the EU and the US preceded by their divergent views on the invasion of Iraq and, more recently, on Iran’s nuclear issue.

Source: Al Jazeera