Twinkle, twinkle, little star

Galileops_3Hurtling around the planet, some 23 km above our heads, will be a network of 30 satellites making up the EU Galileo positioning system. The 675 kg spacecraft will carry the equipment necessary to potentially pinpoint the position of a transponder on the Earth’s surface with centimetre-accuracy. Assuming the project overcomes the economic and political issues that threaten the projected 2011 start, it stands to drive astonishing new applications in agriculture.

The project consortium members have been given until the 10th of May to resolve long-running disagreements on the technical and financial details behind making Galileo work. Read on below for more about the system’s potential.

Suggested CAB Abstracts search: remote sensing and satellite

The European Space Agency (ESA) hopes that the system could help
Galileo-enabled farmers to track their chemical spraying vehicles,
particularly crop-dusting aircraft and to keep accurate records of the
spraying history of their crops. Harvesting vehicles could record the
variations in crop yield that occur within fields and optimise the
chemical applications to deliver precise amounts to the right places.
It’s got to be a good thing, economically and environmentally when no more chemicals than are necessary are used! Farming
and fishing industries could benefit from the ability to closely track
livestock and to monitor the activities of fishing fleets.

Moving into the realm of theory, there are ideas like Professor Ego Füglein’s satellite guided weeding robot, proposed at last October’s Galileo Masters Competition. The precision of Galileo could be exploited to guide a robot in planting seeds, recording the position of each one. A large proportion of weeds in that field could be extracted, based on that data, by a dedicated weeding robot. How about that!

At the moment, the USA’s Global Positioning System (GPS) is the only
available global positioning service. The accuracy of GPS can vary greatly cannot provide the same accuracy that the Galileo project claims. The US military, who operate the
system, reserve the option to shut down or restrict the accuracy of GPS
without warning, for any region of the world. A complete GPS blackout
has never been imposed, but the possibility limits the Safety-of-Life
(SoL) applications of the network, like air traffic control and search
and rescue.  The ESA’s system will have built in safeguards for SoL. Read more about it here.

There could be yet another challenger to GPS though. China has been
putting together their Compass global positioning system for a while
now, recently launching satellite number five of thirty-five. Only time will tell what impact this competitor could have on Galileo and what applications for agriculture it may itself bring, particularly in China and the rest of Asia.

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