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Cracking the secret codes of Europe's Galileo satellite

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Sci/Tech

The navigational satellite, GIOVE-A (Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element-A), is a prototype for 30 satellites that by 2010 will compose Galileo, a $4 billion joint venture of the European Union, European Space Agency and private investors. Galileo is Europe's answer to the United States' GPS.

Because GPS satellites, which were put into orbit by the Department of Defense, are funded by U.S. taxpayers, the signal is free -- consumers need only purchase a receiver. Galileo, on the other hand, must make money to reimburse its investors -- presumably by charging a fee for PRN codes. Because Galileo and GPS will share frequency bandwidths, Europe and the United States signed an agreement whereby some of Galileo's PRN codes must be "open source." Nevertheless, after broadcasting its first signals on Jan. 12, 2006, none of GIOVE-A's codes had been made public.

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