Europe has been working on its own version of GPS, the Galileo system, for the last several years. They’ve met with nothing but problems with their satellites and after the technical error in a launch in August left two satellites stranded in unusable orbits, everyone began to wonder if Galileo was even going to work out.
As it turns out, the European Space Agency (ESA) hasn’t given up hopes yet and only a week or so after announcing the corrected orbit of one of the two stray satellites, the ESA said that they have finally received the seventh and eighth satellites in their testing center in the Netherlands. The two newest satellites have been going through various tests during the last two weeks in a controlled environment, with more tests to come to ensure that the satellites will be able to withstand the harsh environment of space.
Once the satellites are approved for use, they will be launched to join the Galileo constellation which currently consists of six satellites (one of which is not in a usable orbit). A definite date for the launch has not been announced yet, but it will likely be sometime in the next few weeks. Keep checking back, and I’m sure we’ll cover the launch when it happens!
As far as completing the constellation, ESA originally wanted to have the Initial Operational Capability stage completed by this year, which would require the launch of around 12 satellites in 2015 for a partial constellation of 18 satellites (the minimum for navigational purposes). I’ve seen some charts that suggest that they intend to aim for that, but dates haven’t been announced, so that is speculation at best. The full constellation will consist of about 30 satellites, some of which will simply be backups.