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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Launches Satellite for New Navigation Program

PARIS -- The first satellite in the EU's Galileo satellite navigation program was launched from Kazakhstan on Wednesday, a major step forward for Europe's answer to the United States' Global Positioning System.

The test satellite, named "Giove A," took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket on schedule at 11:19 a.m. local time. After the launch amid clear skies, the satellite was released into orbit and began transmitting signals, scientists said.

Journalists monitored the liftoff through a linkup at the headquarters of the European Space Agency, or ESA, in Paris.

The 3.4 billion euro ($4 billion) Galileo project will eventually use about 30 satellites and end Europe's reliance on the GPS system, which is controlled by the U.S. military.

Last year, U.S. President George W. Bush ordered that plans be drawn up for temporarily disabling GPS satellites during times of national crisis to prevent terrorists from using the navigational technology.

Galileo is under civilian control. The European Space Agency says it will guarantee operation at all times, except in case of "the direst emergency." It also says users will be notified of any potential satellite problems within seconds.

"Galileo is made in Europe by Europeans," said ESA spokesman Franco Bonacina. "If the Americans want to scramble GPS, they can do it whenever they want."

Galileo will also be more exact than GPS, with precision of up to one meter, compared with five meters with GPS technology, Bonacina said. With Galileo, for example, rescue services will be able to tell ambulances which lane to use on a highway, he said.

The satellite launch was originally scheduled for Dec. 26 but was delayed because of a technical problem in the ground station network. In orbit, Giove A will test atomic clocks and navigation signals, secure Galileo's frequencies in space and allow scientists to monitor how radiation affects the craft.

Several more satellites will be launched by 2008 to complete the testing phase, which requires at least four satellites in orbit to guarantee an exact position and time anywhere on earth.

Three non-EU nations -- China, Israel and Ukraine -- have also signed on to the program set up by the European Commission and European Space Agency. Discussions are also under way with India, Morocco, South Korea, Norway and Argentina, the EU says.