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What the ‘Brexit’ vote means for EU space programmes, Galileo

June 29, 2016  - By

A Kingdom Divided: Whither EU Space Programmes?

Brexit-WGood grief, it has been a wild week or two. I was hoping that I wouldn’t need to talk about the incredible, excruciating UK referendum on European Union membership, but as the result has gone to the “leave” campaign, I feel obliged to pick over the wreckage.

What does a UK exit from the EU mean for EU space programmes and Galileo in particular?

First: UK involvement in the European Space Agency (ESA) should be unaffected by the exit of the UK from the European Union as this is a separate institution. However, one could argue that non-membership of the EU might diminish its voice and could require a higher financial contribution.

Bids for the next Galileo satellite purchase contracts are due to be submitted in mid-July, and the European Commission has indicated that it will consider them purely on commercial terms. This is good news for the OHB System and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) consortium. And also for the Commission. If I were a betting man, I’d still wager the house on the incumbent consortium winning the contract to provide the remaining satellites required to provide a sustainable, 24/7 operational constellation for 1st generation Galileo. There would, in my opinion, be an unwarranted technical risk in doing anything else.

However, for the next generation it is open season of course.

Jewel in the Crown at Risk. But the real worry must be the Public Regulated Service (PRS). This is the unique feature of Galileo that is of great interest to civil and military authorities in Europe and beyond, due to its more robust encrypted signal and its potential anti-jamming and spoofing characteristics. Currently PRS will only available to EU Member States. In fact access to a PRS workshop at the European Space Solutions event (see below) was strictly “EU citizens only.” However, other countries, including the US and Norway, have indicated that they would love to be able to use it as well. No final decision on this has yet been made.

The loss of the automatic right to access PRS would be damaging to the UK, and potentially to the full Galileo deployment timetable, as the country is currently host to the back-up Galileo Security Monitoring Centre (GSMC) — an essential part of PRS infrastructure — and I cannot see any part of the PRS infrastructure being left in a non EU Member State. PRS has been described as the “jewel in the Galileo crown,” but if the centre must be relocated then deployment of the full service could be delayed.

In addition, the UK involvement in research and innovation activities around PRS may well be curtailed, even if other work on Galileo projects is not.

The UK has been a leader in developing PRS applications. For example, Mark Dumville and colleagues at Nottingham Scientific Limited (NSL) have recently provided some very impressive demonstrations of cloud-based PRS applications including the first demonstration of the implementation of PRS authentication for an offender tag that was demonstrated using live Galileo (and GPS) signals. The demonstration provided real-time authentication flag generation, release and delivery to users. A second demonstration used cloud-based PRS in a proof-of-concept remote unattended, timing station where the primary user requirement was 100% confidence for the validity of signal. And a third demonstration illustrated the use of cloud-based PRS on a drone. “For users, demonstration of accreditation is key,” said Dumville when describing these results at the European Space Solutions event.

Personally as a British citizen, and one who has spent the last 15 years in and out of the Brussels bubble, I see the EU referendum result as a national tragedy of epic proportions; and one that has been a long time in the making. Many global commentators are saying the UK has shot itself in the foot; sadly, in my opinion, it is much, much worse than that.

United Europe

The referendum news has certainly put a dampener on what I was hoping to be an optimistic, forward-looking article following the European Space Solution event in The Hague at the end of May. This was the fourth European Space Solutions conference and exhibition, attracting a large, global audience of policy-makers and industry players.

At a press briefing just before the event kicked off on 30 May, and after an informal EU competitiveness ministerial council, Dutch minister for Economic Affairs Henk Kamp spoke about the ideas behind the forthcoming EU Space Policy. The policy, which should appear in the autumn/ fall, aims to elaborate a single and coherent European space strategy that will be the foundation of space programmes up to 2030.

The policy will look to achieve three clear objectives:

  • to develop a strategy to ensure Europe maintains a strong and globally competitive space sector both upstream and in terms of use of data from space;
  • ensure independent access for Europe to space;
  • and maintain and upgrade the existing European space infrastructure — namely Galileo and Copernicus.

Growth Vectors. Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European Commissioner with responsibility for EU space programmes, indicated that the space policy would provide a “Coherent space vision for decades to come” and would be subject to public consultation. She was looking for “Maximum return on current programmes … and to respond to emerging needs in areas such as climate and security sectors.” The strategy will consider space-enabled solutions to societal challenges and as vectors for growth.

She mentioned more than once that she is looking for long-term sustainability for the sector: a space sector that is able to adapt to disruptive technologies and maintain its competitive edge. My interpretation of this is that public money (from Europe) may not be as plentiful as previously, and the Commission will be looking for greater leverage of its tax Euros — that is, the private sector will need to invest more.

Lowri Evans, Director-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, at the European Commission took up this theme. She saw huge opportunities as the cost of entry to the sector diminished, however private investment was still a problem. There was not enough in the EU and this must change. The Commission is aiming to create an environment for successful investment, she claimed.

Jan Worner, the very positive Director-General of ESA said that “Space was indispensable” as an instrument for economic growth. It was also fascinating and inspiring. He felt it was also important that the different players in the EU space scene are working together for a “United Space in Europe.”

The conference was also the venue for the official signing of the agreement for the future Galileo Reference Centre (GRC) that is to be established at Noordwijk in The Netherlands. The centre will play a crucial role in independently monitoring and reporting on Galileo’s performance and the quality of the system’s signal in space.

Dual-Use Debate

PRS was also a major talking point at the European Space Solution’s panel on ‘Space and Security.’ Despite the fact that Galileo is marketed as a civil controlled GNSS, “dual use” is becoming a potentially divisive area for debate. Marian-Jean Marinescu, MEP said there was a need for a common European defence and security strategy that includes securing all elements of the space value chain.

Rini Goos from the European Defence Agency (EDA) said that the EU needed space systems to be able to “intervene successfully” and that space strategy needed to support Member State defence capabilities. This meant that the next generation of EU space systems must have dual-use capability. NATO is entrusted with external defence of the EU, but the Commission also needs to be able to provide defence, not just consume it, he concluded.

Current Chairman of the Galileo Security Accreditation Board is a UK citizen – Jeremy Blyth. He said: “Space and Security, Security and Space. Whichever way we say it what is clear is that the two are inextricably linked together.” He believes that to ensure security it must be there “designed in from the beginning.” Security is an enabler, rather than a barrier, he claimed.

He also believes that PRS gives the EU a real and competitive edge in secure positioning. However he indicated that there is a need to think deeply and have a rational debate about dual-use systems and in particular about the interface between civil and military use.

Clearly there is a growing tension with regard to overtly military use of Galileo both now and in future generations of the system. Although a largely philosophical debate, given who in reality will be controlling and using PRS within many Member States, many European and national policy makers will want to retain the “purity” of Galileo as a global positioning system under fully civilian control.

PRS Workshop

Security was also a key feature of the PRS workshop organised by the Netherlands EU Presidency towards the end of European Space Solutions. Ger Nieuwpoort, Director of the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) reminded the audience that “For civil authorities, PRS provides the same level of security for Member States as the military in GPS.” While Christoph Kautz from the Commission said that the “Rationale for PRS was threats and user needs: better availability, high continuity, authentication, access control, exclusivity.”

PRS offers defence in depth with a robust signal in space providing higher protection plus strong encryption on ranging codes, and the navigation and service messages. And the access to the technology is highly restricted.

However some issues still need to be resolved. Bart Banning of the Netherlands Institute of Navigation asked ‘How will we use PRS?’ In terms of its use for protecting critical infrastructure, what if the owner of the infrastructure was a private company? Should it be granted access to PRS or have to make do with the Galileo Commercial Service aka PRS-lite?

He also pointed out that PRS was no more protected against jamming than any other GNSS. And, currently, it was “not good for in-building, underground, or underwater.”

He thought PRS could be a great time provider, but probably also need ground transmission, possibly via legacy radio towers. However, he saw the “killer app” for PRS being asset tracking of, for example, diamonds, VIPs or prisoners. He also agreed that for many EU countries the ministry of defence will be overseeing PRS services. “PRS is a good and unique addition to GNSS — but not the answer to all our needs.”

Banning also highlighted the issue of commercial companies looking to buy LORAN / e-LORAN sites in Europe to provide a commercial service to back up GNSS. After the recent GPS timing glitch he said that the “timing community” had woken up to the vulnerability of their operations.


On a different tack, from 23–26 May the eighth edition of the Geospatial World Forum [] took place in Rotterdam, attracting professionals from the surveying and geoinformatic systems (GIS) sectors. I attended the event on 24 May and took part in a workshop that looked at the benefits of Galileo and EGNOS in geospatial applications in the context of the imminent launch of Galileo initial services.

An industry survey undertaken by the GSA indicates that already more than 80% of GNSS receivers for surveying and mapping use are EGNOS-enabled, while 77% of geospatial reference network providers have enough information to upgrade Galileo and will be ready to provide a service by 2017. All good news. On the less positive side, more than 60% of professional surveyors did not know about EGNOS!

The workshop also talked up the potential for synergies between Galileo GNSS and Copernicus Earth Observation (EO) systems — a topic of immense interest at the European Space Solutions as well. Hans Dufourmont from the European Environment Agency (EEA) highlighted the use of GNSS to track animal species and monitor migration paths when considering development opportunities. He saw a huge potential for synergies between geopositioning and surface imaging going forward.

Maurice Barbieri, President of the Council of European Geodetic Surveyors (CLGE) also saw a “clear role for Galileo” in the surveying community with its potential ability to meet centimetre accuracy requirements much more than for EGNOS. He also speculated about the value of establishing a European Geoinformatic Agency that might coordinate the provision of European GNSS and EO data. He felt the private business community would appreciate such simplification.

One presentation that caught my eye was from Laura van de Vyvere of M3 Systems in Belgium. She won the first-ever European Young Surveyor Prize with a paper taken from her Master’s thesis. The presentation addressed an innovative use of Galileo’s unique signal in space that is carried on four frequencies in the Open Service. Her work showed that the four frequencies enabled more precise phase measurements than with GPS so cycle slip is easier to detect and positioning data and reliability can be improved especially in harsh ionospheric conditions. The algorithm she developed could enable affordable multi-frequency receivers for mass-market applications, she claimed. An interesting idea.

A bientôt, as they say in these parts.


About the Author: Tim Reynolds

Tim Reynolds is director of Inta Communication Ltd. and a long-term Brussels observer writing on many aspects of European government policy and implementation for a range of clients and publications. He is the contributing editor for GPS World’s new quarterly e-newsletter, EAGER: the European GNSS and Earth Observation Report.