Been driving recently? Been out for a long walk through scenic hills or moorlands? Done any running to get a little fitter? Ever wondered how the Channel Tunnel boys managed to meet in the middle less than six inches off track? Read of an amazing rescue by helicopter miles out to sea, with absolutely no land reference points to guide the pilot and navigator? Oil spill tracking, to animal migration habits, it is all done at the click of a mouse and the touch of a button; the mouse and buttons being of course connected to a G.P.S. (Global Positioning Satellite) receiver. You can track your exact location, within ten yards of course, at any place upon this Planet Earth, and the greatest thing about the American G.P.S. system is that once you have purchased your Tom-Tom, or Garmin or whichever of the dozens of systems available, there are no charges whatsoever! Amazing that! absolutely free to use. Fair enough, if you want more maps, or updated speed-camera lists, or whatever else, you may have to pay extra, but you still do not pay one penny towards the G.P.S. system itself. Free, like America is; free as the air we breathe!
So you might be asking yourself why you, as a British taxpayer, are paying into a huge money pot to launch thirty, that is twenty-seven plus three spare satellites, to serve as an alternative G.P.S. system? Because you, along with the other 350 million residents of the nations who make up the European Union, are doing exactly that. You, or rather the European Space Agency, on your behalf, are spending mind-boggling sums of money shovelling test-vehicles into orbit, and preparing to spend even more mind-bending sums of your cash on the launch rocketry, receiving stations and operating personnel; all so that Europe can say “We have one as well!” The boast of the Europeans, by the way, is that they will be making a profit; on an estimated total cost of £21 billion.
I bet you feel really proud right about now, don’t you?