The European Union launched a free satellite navigation network on Thursday that could help pilots, drivers, and blind people by fine-tuning the accuracy of the U.S. global positioning system (GPS) to around 2 meters. The EGNOS system will use three satellites and 34 ground stations to narrow the horizontal accuracy of GPS and improve its vertical accuracy to help pilots during landings.
The "Safety-of-Life" service for aircraft navigation could be in place next year, the EU executive said in a statement. Farmers could also benefit from improved precision for spraying fertilizers, and new applications could emerge on roads, such as automatic tolling and pay-per-use car insurance. The system was pioneered by the Commission, the European Space Agency and aviation safety authority Eurocontrol. It paves the way for the better known Galileo project, a European satellite system which will rival GPS and could be up and running in 2014. The 4 billion euro ($5.8 billion) Galileo project, Europe's biggest single space program, has been plagued by delays and squabbling over funding that ended only when the EU agreed to fund it from the public purse.