Galileo constellation represents Europe’s altruistic values

May 15, 2019  - By
Headshot: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron

In February I had the privilege of addressing the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Navigation Days conference in the Netherlands. An internal ESA event, Navigation Days gathers engineering staff from centers in several countries to discuss the present and future of their endeavors.

Since most of the audience had been “bathing” in Galileo, EGNOS and the evolution of both systems for many years, the Director of Navigation and the Galileo Project Manager thought it would be interesting for all to have an “outsider” perspective and opinions on Galileo and the European GNSS position in the world.

Though my half-hour talk ranged freely, and perhaps somewhat wildly, across many sectors and subjects, it had two main foci: the fundamental differences between Galileo and the three other GNSS, and the future portended by those differences. A future column here will address the latter, that is, the future. At present, the present distinctions.

To me, they distill down to three elements: active stimulus of market development, well-funded research into new applications, and — actually the foundation stone of the afore two — democratically elected governments representing citizenry with altruistic values: a strong desire for the common good, thoughtful regulation, intertwined diversity and open borders.

In sum, Galileo’s strength is the strength of the European Union.

“Active stimulus of market development,
well-funded research into new applications,
and citizenry with altruistic values.”

For example, the Horizon 2020 framework program offers €80 billion to support and foster research from 2014–2020. Three E-GNSS calls in H2020 have a total budget of €100.9 million and they synergize with topics on societal challenges. To my knowledge, the U.S. has nothing like this in terms of downstream R&D programs; it is left to the marketplace to initiate and sustain such efforts.This corresponds to the respective economic systems of the two political entities. West of the Atlantic has historically taken a laissez-faire attitude towards applications, development and societal challenges: let the marketplace act.

The other two GNSS powers, Russia and China, as authoritarian regimes, may build viable GNSS and mandate their use, but the synergy between government and users is lacking. This missing link could prove an economic as well as technical weakness in the future. In some respects, it already has.

Particularly in transportation, freight and liability-critical applications, where the European GNSS have devoted extensive forethought to both user and societal needs (read “the environment”), we may see a distinctly different and more progressive future unfolding in Western Europe, led by Galileo.

On the other hand, in the realm of pure consumer devices, the market may be a stronger driver, and U.S. products and services with a GPS bent may remain dominant.

The Public Regulated Service (PRS) for defense, security, emergencies and critical infrastructure, is the hidden strength of Galileo.

I’ve run out of space here for non-scientific speculations, but will expand them in a future column or online.

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About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.