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EU Launches First Satellites For Its Own GPS System


"There is an issue of sovereignty."

BRUSSELS (The Blaze/AP) -- A Russian rocket launched the first two satellites of the European Union's Galileo navigation system Friday after years of delay in an ambitious bid to rival the ubiquitous American GPS network.

The launch of the Soyuz from French Guiana, on the northern coast of South America, for the first time outside of the former Soviet Union's borders, was pushed back by a day.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said it is the first time that two teams work together on the launch of the Soyuz. This is also the first time Soyuz has gone up since a malefaction sent it crashing toward into Siberia when it failed to reach orbit in August.

Watch the launch here:

Officials hope the Galileo system will end Europe's dependence on American GPS and potentially even be its competition.

The rocket is expected to place into orbit the Galileo IOV-1 PFM and FM2 satellites during a nearly four-hour mission. The two satellites will be released in opposite directions. Two satellites will go up every quarter as of the end of 2012 until all 30 satellites are up, with Galileo expected to offer some services in 2014 and become completely operational by 2020.

GPS has become the global consumer standard in satellite navigation over the past decade, reducing the need for awkward oversized maps and arguments with back seat drivers about whether to turn left or right.

Laurent Wauquiez, France's higher education minister and former deputy minister for European affairs, said Europe should not depend on a U.S. military-based GPS system that could be shut down at any time for security reasons.

"It means overnight we could lose our autonomy," he said. "There is an issue of sovereignty. We must not neglect this aspect even in a period of globalization."

The EU wants Galileo to dominate the future with a system that is more precise and more reliable than GPS, while controlled by civil authorities. It foresees applications ranging from precision seeding on farmland to pinpoint positioning for search-and-rescue missions. On top of that, the EU hopes it will reap a financial windfall.

"If Europe wants to be competitive and independent in the future, the EU needs to have its own satellite navigation system to also create new economic opportunities", said Herbert Reul, head of the EU parliament's industry, research and energy committee.

The EU hopes its economic impact will stand at about euro90 billion ($125 billion) in industrial revenues and public benefits over the next two decades.

The European Commission said development and deployment since 2003 is estimated at well over euro5 billion ($6.8 billion). Maintaining and completing the system is expected to cost euro1 billion ($1.35 billion) a year.

Critics have said the cost overruns were much higher.

"Far from celebrating," officials "who have supported Galileo should be making a public apology to taxpayers for this shocking waste of time, effort and resources," EU legislator Marta Andreasen of the anti-Euro UKIP party said.

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