The European Space Agency has provided just over £330m in funding for a European version of the US GPS (Global Positioning System) called Galileo.

The move could eventually lead to development of dual-system GPS/Galileo receivers that have greater accuracy, availability, continuity and integrity than single-band GPS receivers, according to GPS experts.

The 15 nations in the ESA approved the funding for Galileo at a ministerial meeting in Edinburgh late last week. The ESA plans to have the full Galileo constellation in operation by 2008.

ESA director Antonio Rodota plans to provide details of that decision this Friday at the ESA headquarters in Paris. The European Commission is expected to provide matching funding for Galileo next month.

Under development since 1999, Galileo is designed to provide highly accurate navigation signals from a constellation of 30 satellites operating in the same frequency bands as GPS receivers.

The ESA funding will cover the development and validation stage of the system, including the launch of a limited constellation of three satellites. The ESA estimates the total cost of Galileo at around £1.8bn.

Richard Langley, a professor in the Geodetic Research Laboratory at the University of New Brunswick, said plans tentatively call for Galileo to mesh with GPS frequencies to simplify the development of dual-system GPS/Galileo receivers, thus driving down prices.

GPS receivers are used in a wide variety of enterprise applications, including aircraft navigation, mining, truck-tracking, fleet management and surveying.

Dual-system receivers would not only provide greater positioning accuracy, "but would also provide the three other key performance measures of a navigation system — availability, continuity and integrity", Langley said. "The use of a dual constellation will be particularly beneficial in situations where the performance of GPS alone is marginal, such as in urban canyons and other restricted environments."

Langley predicted that the cost of a dual-system receiver wouldn't be much higher than that of a GPS-only receiver. And once Galileo becomes operational, GPS-only receivers will be relegated to the technology junk heap, he added.