The GPS (Global Positioning System), which had its first launch in 1978, has entered daily speech as a term. Yet few have heard of Galileo, the EU’s state-of-the-art next-generation Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), and even fewer are aware of its transatlantic significance.

Galileo, named after the Italian astronomer of the 16th CE, is expected to reach full operational capacity by the end of 2020, something that will require the launching and synchronization of 30 satellites — eight more than currently deployed. Galileo will be extremely accurate: it will provide accuracy of one meter and one centimeter for public and encrypted uses respectively. This is five times more accurate for public applications and 30 times more accurate for encrypted ones than the GPS is. Yet it is not just Galileo’s accuracy that makes it an attention-worthy system.

First, Galileo is the only GNSS that is not operated by the military as are the other three GNSSs: the American GPS, the Russian GLONASS, and the Chinese Beidou. On the contrary, its operators are the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Global Navigation Systems Agency, an EU agency specifically set up for the purpose.

Second, it is an illustration of the EU’s desire to achieve, in certain areas, strategic autonomy. Before Galileo, the EU countries essentially relied on GPS. Yet, since the GPS is operated by the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) it can be turned off at will should the U.S. desire — or should its satellites be targeted by an adversary. With Galileo in operation the EU will insulate itself from the possibility of being deprived of a GNSS should GPS go offline.