China is to contribute to a new global satellite navigation system being developed by European nations.

The Galileo satellite system will offer a more accurate civilian alternative to the Global Positioning System (GPS), operated by the US military. China will provide 230m Euros ($259m) in funding and will cooperate with technical, manufacturing and market development.

“China will help Galileo to become the major world infrastructure for the growing market for location services,” said Loyola de Palacio, EU transport commissioner.

A new centre that will coordinate co-operation was also announced by the European Commission, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology on Friday. The China-Europe Global Navigation Satellite System Technical Training and Cooperation Center will be located at Beijing University. China has a substantial satellite launch industry and could potentially help launch the Galileo satellites.

One-metre precision

But the project had already drawn heavy criticism from the US Department of Defense, and the involvement of China is unlikely to improve the situation. Some commentators say future Chinese weapons could incorporate the Galileo system.

The US has claimed that Galileo could interfere with the US ability to downgrade the GPS service during military conflicts. European officials say this is unfounded and counter that US opposition is due to the commercial challenge Galileo would present to GPS. Galileo will be precise to within a metre, while the civilian GPS service is accurate to around 10 metres.

The Galileo satellite constellation will consist of 27 operational and three reserve satellites orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 23,600 km. The satellites will be strung along three medium-Earth orbits at 56 degrees inclination to the equator and will provide global coverage. The system should be operational by 2008 and the entire project is expected to cost around 3.2 billion Euros ($3.6 billion).

Wide-band signal

The European Commission has said Galileo will primarily be used for transportation technology, scientific research, land management and disaster monitoring.

Galileo will provide two signals; a standard civilian one and an encrypted, wide-band signal called the Public Regulated Service (PRS). This second signal is designed to withstand localised jamming and will be used by police and military services in Europe. European Commission officials have said China will not be given access to the PRS.

The first Galileo satellite is scheduled to launch late in 2004. Clocks on board the satellites will be synchronised through 20 ground sensors stations, two command centres and 15 uplink stations.

Receivers on the ground will use time signals from the satellites to precisely calculate their location. A “search and rescue” function will also let distress signals be relayed through the constellation of satellites.
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