Nowadays the European Union not only covers the European continent, but also stretches into space. Through its European Space Agency (ESA) it develops and launches into orbit satellites that enhance navigation and collect detailed data on the state of the environment. The most recent developments in this area include the programmes Galileo, EGNOS, and GMES.
Galileo (as you may guess, named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei) is a high-precision satellite navigation system able to determine horizontal and vertical position of an object on the Earth within one meter precision. Thus it is much better than the existing GPS technologies and has very good potential to be used in plane and ship navigation, mapping, rescue operations, commercial service and other fields. Moreover, it is said that the Galileo signal should be free and open to the public. The first two satellites of this programme were already launched in October 2011 from the Guiana Space Centre. 28 more are expected to follow them.
EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) is another ESA’s bold idea to improve reliability and accuracy of space satellite measurements. It improves the accuracy of the signals of GPS and the above-mentioned Galileo greatly, allowing its usage in very critical and delicate operations, such as navigating large oil tankers through narrow channels. This is achieved through three geostationary satellites and 44 ground stations. The EGNOS service should also be free and open for anyone with a GPS device able to receive the EGNOS signal.
GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is a bit different initiative that is focused on observing the Earth’s “health status”. By connecting together Earth observation satellites, ground sensors, control stations, etc. it should be able to continuously monitor and report the state of the environment, including air and water pollution, forest cover, land use, global temperature, and appearance of cataclysms. Currently GMES is in the development stage with the launch of its first space satellite Sentinel scheduled to 2013.
The EU and ESA were so excited about their space programmes that they decided to showcase and inform the public about them. Thus the European Space Expo was organized. I managed to visit its first edition in Copenhagen, Denmark. My impression: a bit small for space-wide programmes, but nevertheless quite interesting and interactive with a lot of learning opportunities. Personally I was interested in the mapping application of the programmes, as in the international movement “Let’s Do It!” I am part of we are trying to develop the World Waste Map and gathering and visualisation of statistical data about the waste issue in different countries. So, I definitely recommend you to drop in at this exhibition and spend some time at all its interactive video booths.
The European Space Expo will be in Copenhagen until the 5th of June, 2012 (the Danish Constitution Day, by the way). If you are not able to visit it until then, do not despair. The exhibition has 6 following editions taking place in other countries. You can see the dates and places of these editions at the European Commission’s website.