On December 15, the European Space Agency (ESA) officially announced that the Galileo satellite navigation system, the European version of the U.S.'s GPS, is now in its "Initial Services" phase, the first step towards full operational capability. This means mariners equipped with Galileo-capable devices can use the system for positioning, navigation and timing services anywhere on Earth. During the past five years, 18 Galileo satellites have been placed in orbit, the last four being launched in November aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from ESA's Kourou, French Guiana launch facility. With a few more launches, the final Galileo constellation will be set at 24 satellites with a few in orbit spares.
From the ESA Galileo web site: "Galileo is now providing three service types, the availability of which will continue to be improved.
The Open Service is a free mass-market service for users with enabled chipsets in, for instance, smartphones and car navigation systems. Fully interoperable with GPS, combined coverage will deliver more accurate and reliable positioning for users.
Galileo’s Public Regulated Service is an encrypted, robust service for government-authorised users such as civil protection, fire brigades and the police.
The Search and Rescue Service is Europe’s contribution to the long-running Cospas–Sarsat international emergency beacon location.