The EU’s Galileo satellite system has gone live, aiming to supply the world’s most accurate satellite navigation (sat nav) technology.
The launch of Galileo follows 17 years of development, plagued by delays and budget increases.
The initial 18 satellites will be of limited use for smartphones and in-car systems to begin with.
However, officials hope the system will eventually provide greater location accuracy than either the US or Russian military services.
As the programme went into operation, European Commission officials signed contracts with technology companies to provide the microchips that enable applications to use Galileo information.
Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič said Galileo would increase geo-location precision tenfold when it becomes fully operational in 2020.
He said it would “enable the next generation of location-based technologies such as autonomous cars, connected devices, or smart city services”.
“Today,” he added, “I call on European entrepreneurs and say: imagine what you can do with Galileo – don’t wait, innovate!”
Galileo was originally envisaged to be operational in 2008 with a budget of some €3bn. It now seems set to cost around €10bn by 2020.
The commission has said it hopes Galileo will bring significant returns to member state economies in the form of new businesses that can exploit this better precision and the guarantees that will come with the new civilian-run service.