Europe enters ‘The Year of Galileo’

March 28, 2016  - By
Image: GPS World

2016 has already been dubbed as “The Year of Galileo.” That was the clear message from the Munich Satellite Navigation Summit in early March. The Munich summit covers all GNSS systems, but the focus this year was squarely on Galileo.

I think it is fair to say that come hell or high water we will see Galileo Initial Services debuting in October 2016. Representatives from all parties to the Galileo initiative – the European Commission, ESA and GSA – stressed the importance of getting those first services in place.

12 satellites currently in orbit (despite one being definitely broken and two in sub-optimal orbits) will be sufficient to deliver the service, and this will not depend on any of the six satellites to be launched during 2016. Extensive system testing will take place during the spring and summer to ensure all is ready.

The Munich Satellite Navigation Summit 2016

Watching the traditional high-level opening plenary session in Munich’s marvellous Allerheiligen-Hofkirche (Court Church of All Saints), it is clear that a more collaborative era has entered the European GNSS scene. The body language of the various European parties on stage was so much more relaxed than at previous summits. For me this is the good news that Johann-Dietrich “Jan” Woerner has brought as the new Director General of ESA.

The working title of this 13th Munich Summit was “GNSS — creating a global village” but the focus was squarely on Galileo. From the European Commission, Pierre Delsaux thanked Jan Woerner for shuffling the ESA launch schedule to enable the extra Soyuz launch for two Galileo satellites in May and anticipated global coverage by 2020. He also emphasized the need to show value for EU taxpayers and unleash space-based services, new applications and jobs for global citizens. It was also confirmed that Galileo launches were now insured.

Deliver, deliver, deliver

Jan Woerner himself praised the collaboration with the Commission, saying during the panel discussion that there was “no power struggle at all.” He said that the Director General of the Commission’s DG GROWTH, Lowri Evans, had the motto: “Don’t discuss: deliver, deliver, deliver.” He agreed that the roles of the various players needed refinement but this should never be to the detriment of the Galileo programme.

Carlo des Dorides, Executive Director of the GSA, was also optimistic. He said GSA is now taking its full place in the GNSS world. He focused on what Galileo will bring to the Internet of Things (IoT), and digital infrastructure in general, and emphasised the better accuracy and availability of the European GNSS, especially in urban-canyon  environments, and also its proposed authenticated open signal. “The (Galileo) revolution is an appointment that cannot be missed for success in digital infrastructure,” he concluded.

Higher levels of authentication and trust that are to be provided by Galileo signals give the appearance of a distinct market differentiator for the system. Most importantly, one that the market and applications in mobility, finance and the IoT want to see.

The Jewel in the Crown

Later in the summit Imogen Ormerod, Head of Galileo Policy at the UK Space Agency, described the Galileo Public Regulated Service (PRS) as the “Jewel in Galileo’s crown.” insisting that PRS was unique and that the ability to have confidence in the signal would be ground-breaking. Done right, PRS has “unique and unchallenged commercial potential,” she concluded.

As provision of authentication is clearly not on the civil GPS horizon at the moment, “unchallenged” appears to be the appropriate word.

During a session on authentication, Harold “Stormy” Martin, Director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing in Washington, stated that the United States has no plans for civil authentication in the current-generation GPS satellites or in GPS III. However, he said the U.S. was interested in EU developments and would continue to explore possibilities for future.

Next Generation

Paul Flament, Head of Unit for Galileo and EGNOS – Programme Management at the European Commission issued further warm feelings for Galileo on the Wednesday morning. His update on Galileo status  confirmed the news hinted previously that the two Galileo satellites delivered into the wrong orbits will be used for the Galileo Search and Rescue function and would probably also be available for the Open Service. Testing with receiver manufacturers has already shown that their signals are compatible.

He also talked about the new tender for eight further satellites that has been issued by the Commission. This would procure the four extra satellites now needed to reach a 30-satellite constellation and four for spare. The winning bidder could be known by September and definitely by the end of the year.

Commission rules require that a contract of this size must be put out to tender, but as the satellite specification is pretty much identical to that now being successfully rolled off the OHB production line, it would be bizarre — although not beyond the mystery that is EU space politics — for the tender to be awarded anywhere else.

The GSA competition to select the operator of Galileo services will also be known by the end of 2016. Consultation on what will be required for the second generation of Galileo FOC satellites beyond 2020, perhaps with an emphasis on cost reduction, will open sometime this year.

EGNOS over Africa

The potential extension of the European SBAS EGNOS over Africa was discussed in a session that emphasised the global village dimension of GNSS. Julien Lapie from the Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA), based in Dakar, gave an update on the programme that is looking to establish a cooperative management system of a single sky of over 16.1 million square kilometres — around 50 percent larger than Europe.

ASENCA is developing a programme and resources for deployment of EGNOS in Africa with the objective of African ownership of the infrastructure, control and provision of a signal-in-space and autonomous provision of services to users. A first step was to provide early EGNOS-based services by 2019/20, and then provision of full services from 2023 onwards. One technical issue had been the need for more and better information on ionospheric effects over Africa to characterise and optimise the EGNOS model for SBAS. Results here were very encouraging, and Lapie said that this was no longer a problem for L1 service on SBAS. He hoped for an ASECNA-EU international agreement as soon as possible. Such a system will need a space-based component and this will have to be subject to an open tender, Lapie told me after his presentation.

On obvious contender for the tender is already in orbit: NigComSat-IR. John A. Momoh of the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency described the characteristics of this satellite that was primarily launched to provide communications services but also carried L1 and L5 transponders designed for SBAS. These had been commissioned and showed “close to GPS performance and a signal in space that is compatible with GNSS.” Momoh said that the satellite could be a core component of an Africa SBAS.

Time gentlemen – please!

One new potential wrinkle for Galileo was hinted at during the Munich session on legal issues around GNSS timing. A recent GPS timing issue caused numerous problems for digital broadcasters and financial networks around the world on 26 January, when a data upload went slightly awry. This introduced a 13.7 millisecond error in one of the timing signals: the static offset for GPS time compared to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). It led to some receivers exhibiting “different and unwanted behaviour” – a very polite description!

Fortunately the issue was resolved swiftly, and correct data uploaded. The extent of any financial losses and how any legal proceedings (if any) to recover damages might pan out are still unclear. However what is clear is that while GPS time has a clear link to legal time, Galileo does not. Dr. Andreas Bauch from the German Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) — one of Germany’s “Time Lords” — described the underlying legal basis of GNSS time.

U.S. GPS time is traceable and legally defined to national time and UTC through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In Europe most Member States, but not all, have legal time defined in legislation. Galileo System Time (GST) is not linked to a single institution but to an average derived from a network of European standards institutions including PTB. From the presentations it was not clear to me if GST currently has a water-tight legal definition.

Talking to legal and technical experts after this session, it became clear that the legal basis for GST does need to be clearly defined in European legislation — and soon — if Galileo PNT services are to be a commercial reality in the near future. The Commission needs to get on the case for this one pronto.

Tracking Everything

On a lighter note I had great pleasure in chairing a GPS World session at the Summit on the final day with the title of “‘GNSS and Sciences for Life.” This small but perfectly formed session presented three different applications of GNSS used to track people, animals and assets. Walter Naumann of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology showed, via a series of videos, his remarkable work in the ICARUS project tracking the migration of animals from locusts to elephants via a payload on the International Space Station. GNSS tags that weigh 5 grams or less enable accurate tracking of even the smallest beast.

Stefan Thurner of the Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Animal Husbandry in Freising, Germany described his use of GNSS tags to track cattle and other farm animals in alpine summer pastures, enabling farmers to monitor their herds from a distance. Finally Oliver Trinchera of Kinexon told us about developments at this Munich-based winner of the 2013 Galileo Masters competition. Kinexon technology is used to track people and assets worldwide and has its own proprietary solution for accurate indoor positioning providing a low-cost, scalable solution.

In the same general field as Kinexon one of my favourite young companies — and also a winner at the 2013 European Satellite navigation Competition — Johan Sport has had a great March so far. The month marked the commercial launch of company’s EGNOS-enabled sports tracking products and the launch of a crowdfunding campaign via the Dutch Symbid site. The company was seeking € 150 000 to scale up production and hire a couple more employees. The new funding for 5 percent of the company’s shares values Johan Sport at two million Euros and was oversubscribed within four days! “We are indeed very pleased,” says CEO Jelle Reichert. “Now full throttle to the market!”

The Johan Sport system is seen as the first affordable and reliable performance monitoring system for professional field sports. And with the global market for sports analytical equipment predicted to grow to some $4.7 billion by 2021, there is plenty to play for!

Year of UAVs too?

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sector is a dynamic GNSS-enabled sector globally, and Europe is no exception. In January I attended a UAV event at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels. The focus of the two-day meeting was on small commercial and recreational remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) that are rapidly populating Europe’s airspace.

Currently, there is no European legislation that governs their use in conjunction with general aviation and, typically, national legislation varies across the member states. Regulators are trying to play catch-up.

One interesting EU project trying to tackle this situation is DroneRules.EU. Philippe Carous of SpaceTec Partners said the project’s main objective was to raise general awareness of the rules governing RPAS across the commercial sector and the general public. Speaking as an occasional drone operator – I own a Parrot 2.0 – I must admit I was oblivious of the legal minefield I am potentially entering every time I fly my ‘Boy’s Toy’ around the garden!

The project covers three main areas: privacy and data protection; safety and operation; and insurance and liability. The plan is to establish a set of useful tools on a web portal including awareness, training tools and online resource covering rules at national level plus regulatory developments. The website should be available mid-2016 at

Rachel Finn of Trilateral Research, a partner in the project, talked about privacy and data protection issues which bring some complex rules and liabilities into play as drones are increasingly becoming data collection devices. The company undertook a survey of users for the European Commission and identified private users as the least regulated and most at risk of breaching the rules. Commercial users were seen as medium risk. “Using the same drone with the same payload in different contexts can raise different or new privacy and data protection issues,” Rachel said. Each mission may need to be individually risk assessed.

Listening to the discussion here, it seemed to me that privacy issues could effectively turn any urban area into a ‘no-go’ zone for civil drones let alone other considerations on safety and so on.

The Brussels conference was organised by UVS International whose president Peter van Blyenburgh is a blunt-speaking and passionate advocate for the civil RPAS operating community in Europe.

On 4 March a further workshop took place at EUROCONTROL headquarters in Brussels with the purpose of discussing the future working arrangements and work programme for the development of RPAS standards. Peter van Blyenburgh tells me that not a single RPAS operator had been invited to air their views at this forum.

From the discussions at the workshop it was clear, according to van Blyenburgh, that international, European and national standards organisations are not coordinating their work and consequently there is significant duplication and wasted effort. However it was decided that a single working group will be established to tackle standards work for all sizes of RPAS and terms of reference for this group should be finalised by the middle of June 2016.

During the workshop  van Blyenburgh expressed his views on the absolute necessity that RPAS operators and new disruptive technology companies must participate in the work on standards and as there was a large number of light RPAS (<25 kilograms) already flying, it was also imperative to tackle the standards applicable to them as a priority.

Van Blyenburgh takes the view that if the RPAS community is not careful and proactive, their commercial future may be set by standards produced by the traditional airspace players that are not directly involved with their specific community, nor really understand it. It is hard to disagree with his views here.

“Of course, at the same time, the RPAS communities should both remember that airspace safety is a common responsibility that should be proportionately shared by all RPAS community members,” he adds. “Defining this proportionality will be one of the keys to success.”

Polish solution?

If regulations are lacking, technical solutions are ready to roll. One European initiative based in Poland seems to have a viable monitoring and control system developed for drones/ RPAS: The Drone Monitoring System (PSMD) was presented by Justyna Zdanowska of the Grupa Dron House S.A.

The Polish solution can monitor drones in near real-time (the company claims a maximum delay of one second) using GSM and/or GPS technologies and has the ability to manage the drone online through an application. They say this is the first successful development of such technology that is operational and ready for implementation. It has already attracted the interest of some major aerospace players, drone users and the authorities as the system could solve the issue of uncontrolled flights and other problems.

“We offer a complete, ready-to-use system that will radically improve the safety of air traffic, because the drone market is developing at a dynamic rate in an uncontrolled manner,” says Justyna Zdanowska.

The technology also has a huge capacity with up to 18 000 devices controlled and/ or monitored by a single base station at a given location. This should allow full monitoring and identification of unmanned devices.

2016 Masters

Finally I am looking forward to the 2016 Galileo and Copernicus Masters competitions that will launch soon in Europe. These annual high-profile competitions showcase some of the best emerging applications and ideas for GNSS and Earth Observation in Europe, and globally.

As mentioned above the ideas behind both Kinexon and Johan Sport won big at previous Masters events and the 2016 competition launches on 1 April. You can find out more, here.