Grüss Gott – Munich Satellite Summit

April 11, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World
There is a reason the Munich Satellite Summit is billed as a summit and not a symposium or conference. It’s a different atmosphere that invites group chats, informal get-togethers, and networking. One item of note that I came away with is that the Chinese are looking for help and partners for their PNT constellations, of which there appear to be three in the making. But asked point blank when they would finally release the full ICD specifications for receivers (a partial ICD has been released) the answer was the same as last year. They did not know when that might happen. It is hard to build receivers and support a specific program, much less three PNT constellations, when you don’t have the specifications.

Grüss Gott! rang out across the ancient cobblestoned Marienplatz, home of the beautiful and timeless Glockenspiel or mechanized clock tower as I strolled along. The Glockenspeil is located in the heart of the old city of München, Germany and I passed it every morning as I strolled toward the Residenz München, which centuries ago was home and castle to the Kings of Bavaria. This particular beautiful spring morning the ancient castle was my destination and the incredible venue for the Munich Satellite Summit. Talk about location, location, location! (Read more about this incredible setting.)

Plenary Session

There were no less than 10 plenary speakers on opening night. In retrospect there should have only been five, but that is a lesson learned, as is the fact that the Chinese presenter was totally indecipherable. Even reading his slides I still could not understand a word he said. As an organizer of such events, and yes I know from experience, you quickly learn that poor and even unintelligible speakers are just a curse that comes with the territory. However, the musical interludes presented by an a cappella musical group were outstanding. This was the highlight of the evening, which tells you something about the plenary — it was not bad actually as plenaries go, everything worked like clockwork. It was just a tad bit too long. No one ever hopes…well maybe that is backwards…actually everyone hopes to attend a plenary that is actually informative but it rarely occurs. The summit plenary wasn’t bad; the food, drink and networking opportunities were great, but next year I vote for more songs, fewer indecipherable speeches and, until they get their act together, the only Chinese item on the plenary or any summit agenda should be egg rolls.

This is not an expression of Xenophobia or bigotry, not at all — I just hate to waste my time. I spent several hours listening to the Chinese presentations during the summit and literally understanding about 10% or less, and unless I, and everyone else missed it, there was absolutely nothing new announced. It was a total rehash of the National Space Symposiums uninformative Chinese forum from last April.

The one item of note that I did comprehend is that the Chinese are looking for help and partners for their PNT constellations, of which there appear to be three in the making. But asked point blank when they would finally release the full ICD specifications for receivers (a partial ICD has been released), the answer was the same as last year. They did not know when that might happen. It is hard to build receivers and support a specific program, much less three PNT constellations, when you don’t have the specifications.

I met Joel Szabat, the senior government representative at the plenary who is currently serving as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Joel and I have corresponded but never met, so this was a great opportunity to get acquainted. And I must add that Joel’s comments during the plenary session were right on the mark. They were short, concise, and to the point. Very well done. If only others had emulated him.

Other notable U.S. attendees were Colonel Bernie Gruber, director of the GPS Directorate, who gave a well received but brief GPS status briefing, and some of his staff along with Hank Skalski, the Civil GPS liaison at HQ AFSPC; Ron Hatch from John Deere (Starfire); as well as an old friend, Dr. Per Enge, director of the GPS laboratory and senior professor in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics at Stanford University. Representatives from Lockheed-Martin Space Systems and other U.S. companies were present as well, so the U.S. space program was well represented.

One of the Royal Lions Guarding the entrance
to the Munich Satellite Summit.


There is a reason the Munich Satellite Summit is billed as a summit and not a symposium or conference. There is a different atmosphere that invites group chats, informal get-togethers and networking. It may sound strange; however, in an ancient German palace the atmosphere is a bit less formal than at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which is the largest Space Symposium in the world. The Munich Satellite Summit will garner ~400 international attendees while at the Broadmoor Resort there will be closer to 5,000 attending. So the summit is definitely a bit more intimate and less rushed. More conducive to networking, which in my estimation is the real value of the summit. At the summit you can easily visit all the booths in 30 minutes or less and in Colorado Springs you will be lucky to get through all the booths in less than three days of dedicated booth-hopping. In Germany everyone is a bit more relaxed, and at the National Space Symposium everyone is trying to see and attend everything; it is definitely a bit more frenetic and yet both venues are amazing in their own way and each event has its place in the scheme of things.

Both the Munich Space Summit and the National Space Symposium, which includes Cyber 1.2 (15-19 April 2012), are about more than GPS and PNT, yet these are the predominant themes at both events…and this is only as it should be… Who me? Biased!


Seriously, the Munich Space Summit is naturally more European Space Agency (ESA) and Galileo-oriented than the National Space Symposium, and yet this year one of the main themes and topics of conversation was eLORAN and the USCG-supported UrsaNav foray into that endeavor.

My GPS World column on that timely topic came out on March 14, the first full day of the summit, so it was a constant topic of conversation for me and I was happy to hear that sections from the article were quoted numerous times during the summit. Many were happily surprised by the UrsaNav efforts and even more surprised by the USCG support.

A dedicated eLORAN session included Professor David Last from the UK and a speaker from the subcontinent, who told some pretty hair-raising pirate stories to illustrate his points of why a strong, impervious to jamming, low-frequency timing and PNT system is needed in his part of the world and is generally a good idea on a global basis. I would agree — when being attacked by pirates, knowing immediately exactly where and when you are can be of critical importance when seeking help. It was an entertaining, informative session that was standing-room only.

During the entire summit, I only heard the word LightSquared used as an expletive. Most everyone said…thank goodness that “§”&%” is over… or words to that effect. Most everyone marveled that it took a year to get through the whole fiasco and wondered what will happen next…it is like waiting for the other shoe to drop…but there was an obvious huge sigh of relief and then inevitably comments like …see, that’s why the United States needs an eLORAN system. ” Point taken I hope.

And the U.S. does desperately need a proven high-power LF Stratum-1 timing signal that covers the U.S., approaches to the U.S. as well as portions of Canada and Latin America. Faithful readers know that I often quote the statistic that 90% of GPS users globally use GPS for time. Time and frequency standards are critical to our national infrastructure, even more so since GPS freely provides time to a very high degree of accuracy for all and using the GPS timing source has become ubiquitous among most U.S. government agencies.

Time is critically important to all we do — more so than most of us ever take the time to consider. However the subject of time fascinates many. I remember a conference on timing a few months ago in Boulder, Colorado, at NIST with numerous timing briefings given by an old friend, Judah Levine. The topics included, “What is Time?”, “What is a Second?”, “What is a Leap Second?” and “The Importance of Frequency” — I don’t remember anyone leaving the room while Judah was speaking.

Some of the more critical factors concerning time as associated with GPS and eLORAN are that unlike mechanical devices — such as an INS (inertial navigation system) that display your position — GPS and eLORAN signals contain data that informs you when you are as well as where you are. GPS and eLORAN can give you the day, date and time as well as a geographical or spatial position, which is crucial data for automated scheduling of activities that is so prevalent in many of our critical infrastructures today.

I and several subject matter experts will discuss aspects of eLORAN and more during a GPS World-sponsored webinar in June 2012. Stay tuned for more information concerning that event.

Other Forays

Munich is a big modern city with all that brings with it and it has changed a great deal in the last 45 years, since I attended University there. I helped edit the university newspaper, worked as a disc jockey at Radio Free Europe to pay my way though university, and worked as a roving correspondent. See, I really have been in this business for a long time in one way or another. So, being the intrepid journalist I have always been, only much older and wiser and with much less hair to lose, I scheduled side trips to Astrium, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, VW-Porsche, and NATO AWACS. Do you see a trend developing?

The Astrium personnel and the factory tour were very special, and you will be hearing more about both at another time. Astrium is building several of the key components of the Galileo satellites as a subcontractor to OHB Technology AG in Bremen, Germany.

Bottom Line

There is so much to say about the Munich Satellite Summit and of course the extra curricular excursions; it is impossible to do so in just one or two columns, so I will be covering different aspects over the next several months. Bottom Line: the Munich Satellite Summit is a seminal event and a treat not to be missed. I want to thank our Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Alan Cameron for allowing me to attend this year, and I hope that Alan remains so busy that I will have the opportunity to personally greet you with Grüss Gott in München in February 2013. Tschüss!

Until then, happy navigating.



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About the Author: Don Jewell

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.