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Galileo Space-Borne, Industry Land-Bound

September 30, 2015  - By

Galileo’s latest pair of full operational capability (FOC) satellites now orbit proudly in space, “performing beautifully.” The first two FOC birds may soon shift their focus from navigation to gravity experiments instead.

Meanwhile, as the European Space Agency tries to fly, European industry seeks firmly grounded support in the form of an industrial policy and economic stimuli, expressing concern that the current situation “might jeopardize the achievement of the main objections of the European GNSS programmes.”

Alba and Oriana (aka Galileo satellites 9 and 10), launched on Sept. 11, are drifting towards their target orbital positions. Thruster firings will resume around the end of October to stop their drift and achieve fine positioning in orbit. Their control now rests in the electronic hands of the Galileo Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

Gravity Probe. The two satellites launched last September have not fared so well. Injected into the wrong orbit by a faulty Soyuz rocket, they were moved to a “usable” orbit in December 2014, reducing orbit eccentricity and avoiding the high radiation doses in the Van Allen belts, but still not high enough to function fully as navigation satellites. The European Commission (EC) and ESA remain convinced that Doresa and Milean (satellites 5 and 6) will be able to contribute in some limited fashion to Galileo’s PNT solutions, but they are also preparing alternate roles for the pair.

Together with Sytèmes de Référence Temps Espace (SYRTE, or Time-Space Reference Systems department) of the Observatoire de Paris and the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen, ESA has explored taking advantage of the combination of Dorena’s and Milesa’s eccentricity (about 0.15 in the corrected orbits), the passive hydrogen maser (PHM) on-board clocks’ high accuracy-stability (~10−14 per day), and high orbital precision to perform a measurement of the gravitational redshift. The redshift or Einstein shift is a process by which electromagnetic radiation originating from a source that is in a gravitational field is reduced in frequency, or redshifted, when observed in a region of a weaker gravitational field. The three organizations believe that the two satellites can help measure this effect with a superior accuracy compared to today’s state of the art, based on Gravity Probe A, an experiment performed in 1976.

These tests are noted to have a high scientific relevance, as many alternative theories of gravitation predict violations of the Einstein Equivalence Principle at some level of accuracy. Two parallel research activities, with SYRTE and ZARM, will be launched by ESA to assess this potential in greater detail.

See What the Future Brings. Two further Galileo satellites are scheduled for launch by end of this year. Next year the deployment of the Galileo system will be boosted by the entry into operation of a specially customized Ariane 5 launcher that can double, from two to four, the number of satellites that can be placed into orbit by a single launch.


We Want What They Got. Earlier this month, the 29-company Galileo Services association, made up of European chipset and receiver suppliers and associated service providers, issued a position paper calling for “a coordinated industrial policy to support the European economy,” specifically that portion of the economy based on satellite positioning, navigation and timing. The companies jointly complain that in the United States, Russia, China and Japan, dedicated national strategies, including “massive funding” for both R&D and manufacturing, support GNSS downstream industries — but in Europe, no such backing exists. The un-level playing field imperils European commercial activity.

“As things stand, in a few years, it will be difficult or nearly impossible for European industry to survive in the highly competitive GNSS global market,” the position paper reads. “Unless an effective and long-term strategy is put in place during the Galileo early services exploitation phase (2016–2020), the window of opportunity for European industry to benefit from the current GNSS market boom will soon be closed.”

“Europe Must Succeed in the Global Navigation Market Race” (the full document is available here) calls upon European governments to devise and adopt a strategic plan to support Galileo’s downstream suppliers and manufacturers. The desired strategy connotes money and favorable regulations.

Europe governmental hands may be a bit tied by a U.S.-European agreement that neither will put up barriers discriminating against each other’s satnav systems. China and Russia have not signed the agreement and so are not bound by its restrictions; the two countries can freely make “massive procurements equivalent to several billions of euros from the public sector, as anchor customer, which radically boosts private investment,” according to the Galileo Services paper. Further, the United States can step around the agreement’s terms via military contracts to U.S. manufacturers, leveraging their commercial ventures.

Thirty-three or Bust. The report continues to reference the magic number 33 percent, the traditional European global market share in any high-tech sector. European industry partners estimate they hold 20 percent of the worldwide satnav currently, if even that, and, ominously, they see that share declining. They cast U.S. manufacturers in the dominant role: “80 percent of well-established market owners are of U.S. origin.” This is not the same as an 80 percent market share, but it still sounds scary to European ears. Meanwhile, “the size and growth of Chinese industry, which has already in just a few years outperformed European industry in the field of telecommunications, is particularly worrying” to satnav concerns.

Section Two of “Europe Must Succeed” defines the strategic plan that the industry partners would like to see:

  • quantitative objectives in terms of market share, revenue, and job creation;
  • clear support actions in terms of public procurement and regulations;
  • key performance indicators to assess progress towards set milestones.

Section Three lays out a series of recommended key support actions for public institutions to undertake, and Section Four proposes a Galileo Services Forum, a permanent and formal arena for discussions between the European Commission, the European GNSS Agency, and the European Space Agency on the one hand, and European GNSS downstream industry on the other.

Interestingly, while the report in an earlier section calls out a number of promising application and service markets — basically all the usual suspects, from connected vehicles to offshore infrastructure — it singles out one, “the leading position of Europe in GNSS security and resilience,” for particular attention. It “should be strengthened, as it is critical for today’s and tomorrow’s markets.”

The report also makes a pointed allusion to European industry’s “strong reputation for quality and reliability.” This note is not sounded elsewhere in the paper, suggesting a fear that price trumps quality in today’s marketplace. A well-founded fear.

Galileo Services represents more than 180 members. Its most active and representative GNSS players include: Airbus Defence & Space, Ansaldo STS, CGI, European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP), Eutelsat, France Developpement Conseil, Fugro, GMV, Guide, Hertz Systems, Honeywell, Indra, Ineco, JAVAD GNSS, Kayser-Threde, Kongsberg, M3 Systems, NavCert, NLR, NovAtel, Nottingham Scientific Limited, OHB, QinetiQ, Septentrio, Catapult, Sogei, Spirent, Thales and Veripos.


About the Author: Alan Cameron

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