Staff flying high as they watch their work launch

Jacquie Shaw of the NMRN

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TONIGHT around 100 staff and guests will gather at Astrium in order to watch the launch of a pair of satellites they helped to build.

At 7.15pm the pair of Galileo Satellites are due to launch from Europe’s space port in Kourou, French Guiana.

The Galileo programme aims to complement the United States’ Global Positioning System satellites, which tell satnavs, smart phones and other navigational devices where in the world the user is.

Like the American GPS, Galileo will allow users to identify their exact position in time and space, but with greater precision and reliability.

Under European civilian control, Galileo will be compatible with GPS, but entirely independent from it.

EADS Astrium was commissioned to build the satellites by the European Commission, which has invested billions of euros into the project.

A spokesman for the agency said: ‘The European Commission estimates that six to seven per cent of European GDP – around 800bn euros by value – is already dependent on satellite navigation.

‘But European users have no alternative today other than to take their positions from US GPS or Russian Glonass satellites.

‘If the signals were switched off tomorrow, many ship and aircraft crews would find it inconvenient and difficult to revert to traditional navigation methods.

‘Many utility networks are also more and more dependant on the precise time synchronisation provided by the satellite navigation systems. As the use of satellite navigation spreads, the implications of a signal failure will be even greater, jeopardising not only the efficient running of transport systems, but also human safety.’

And while the main satellite structure was built at Astrium’s Stevenage site, its payload – the part of the satellite that records the information and beams it back to Earth – was built at the firm’s base in Anchorage Park, Hilsea.

The two satellites due to be launched today will be responsible for ensuring the system works as it should, before it begins beaming its signals down to Earth properly in 2015.