Wednesday's launch of ViaSat Corp.'s ViaSat-1 broadband satellite, which will serve Canada and the U.S.,  wasn't the only bird put into orbit this week. Today  two satellites in the European Union's Galileo GPS navigation program successfully went into space from a launch site in French Guiana.

As Jennifer Baker of IDG News reports, Galileo will begin operating in 2014 and is expected to generate economic and social benefits worth around €60 billion (US$82.5 billion) to €90 billion over the next 20 years. However the project got off to a shaky start in 2008 and has been dogged by arguments over funding ever since.

“The challenge now is to ensure sufficient funding in the future. Galileo must be operational as quickly as possible. We cannot risk losing ground to our global competitors,” said Herbert Reul, chairman of the European Parliament's industry, research and energy committee. A recent budget proposal has earmarked €7 billion to implement and operate Galileo.

Baker writes that Galileo combines the most precise atomic clock ever flown for navigation — accurate to one second in three million years — with a powerful transmitter to broadcast navigation data worldwide. The first satellites were taken into orbit on a Russian-built Soyuz rocket and will be followed by two more next year. These will carry out the orbit validation phase. In all, 30 satellites will be deployed.

“Today's launch is a major step for Europe and its citizens. It is of strategic importance, not only for the competitiveness of our industry and for job creation, but also to ensure Europe's independence in space technology and policy,” said European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso. “It will benefit companies ranging from shipping, fleet management, finance, electricity and telecommunications. Space related activities are also key for Europe's 2020 strategy by creating high skilled jobs, commercial opportunities and boosting innovation all over Europe.”

 
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