2011: The Year for Galileo

January 18, 2011  - By

Back in December 2006, I wrote about the momentum of Galileo (Europe’s planned satellite navigation system) in an article discussing GNSS trends. Galileo has been discussed off and on for well over a decade and was a hot topic for a number of years. In fact, back around 2001, the U.S. really didn’t want the European Union to embark on the project. While there was not a clear policy against Galileo, certainly the sentiment was questioning the creation of another satellite navigation system when GPS already exists that’s free for everyone to use. Ok, it probably wasn’t that simple, but you get my point. No bueno from the U.S. at that time.

The following is an EU slide that illustrates why the EU wants to develop its own satellite navigation system similar to GPS:

Source: European Commission – Montpellier, France – October 2010


Then, in 2004, the U.S. government abruptly changed its tune. It really doesn’t matter why and I’m not sure I’d believe the answer if I was given one, but President George HW Bush instituted a new policy that encouraged international cooperation. The U.S. SPACE-BASED POSITIONING, NAVIGATION, AND TIMING POLICY issued in 2004 stated, among other things, that the United States shall:

“Seek to ensure that foreign space-based positioning, navigation, and timing systems are interoperable with the civil services of the Global Positioning System and its augmentations in order to benefit civil, commercial, and scientific users worldwide. At a minimum, seek to ensure that foreign systems are compatible with the Global Positioning System and its augmentations and address mutual security concerns with foreign providers to prevent hostile use of space-based positioning, navigation, and timing services;”

Also in 2004, the U.S. and European Union signed the landmark GPS-Galileo Agreement that established a basis of cooperation. This was great news for the GNSS user community. More satellites and more signals usually equates to better performance.

The next policy update after 2004 was last year (2010) and it was simply titled “NATIONAL SPACE POLICY“. The sentiment regarding international cooperation was the same, if not leaning more towards cooperation:

“Engage with foreign GNSS providers to encourage compatibility and interoperability, promote transparency in civil service provision, and enable market access for U.S. industry;”

After the 2004 GPS-Galileo policy was published, the question from the civil user community was, “When are we going to have satellites in orbit broadcasting signals we can use?”

The answer to that question wasn’t easy, and took longer to answer than anyone predicted, including myself.

Now, we have the answer.

Unlike GPS and GLONASS, Galileo is a civilian project, not a military-funded one. I’m not saying GPS and GLONASS were easy to fund, but the core application was defined (military use), and the funding required to develop and maintain GPS and GLONASS is drawn from the military budget. Furthermore, the European Union is comprised of 27 member countries. The political dynamics are, obviously, very complex.

The Galileo funding modeling initially was to be a public-private partnership (PPP). Part of it would be funded with public money and part of it would be funded by a consortium of companies. But, that wasn’t so easy. How much funding would each contribute? What’s the return on investment? How would it generate revenue? Would there be a tax receiver sales? Would there be a user charge?

We’re not talking about small sum of money. We’re talking about several billion Euros just to get it off the ground.Think about it, how much money has the U.S. military spent to develop GPS? $30-$35 billion for development, deployment and long-term maintenance. Granted, Galileo will cost a lot less than that, but it’s still a healthy sum that no company would be willing to gamble without a solid return-on-investment (ROI) argument.

Eventually, the PPP (Private-Public Partnership) funding model was abandoned and in late 2007, and as described in a January 2008 GPS World article:

“European officials responsible for the EU budget said they had found funds for Galileo, proposing to draw unused money originally earmarked for natural resources programs this year and next. The move would provide some €2.4 billion ($3.3 billion) for Galileo — the budgetary shortfall left with the dissolution of the public/private partnerships — over the course of the next six years. The following month, European parliamentarians agreed with the plan, but felt it didn’t go far enough. They boosted proposed funding for Galileo, increasing the money set aside for the program in 2008 to €739 million ($1.06 billion), up from the much more modest €151 million under the transport officials’ original proposal for next year.

Not all were sold on public funding for Galileo. But in November, European officials said they had ironed out their differences. At the 11th hour came heated debate about how Galileo funding and contracts would be awarded among member states and their respective aerospace companies. Eventually, a final accord was reached. Europe anticipates spending €3.7 billion on Galileo through 2013.”

(Updated figures: €2.1 billion for IOV and €3.4 billion for FOC)

That was three years ago. The EU folks have been working hard since then, but talk is cheap and people stopped talking about Galileo with the exception of a few information spikes here and there. There was nothing else to say until now.

2011 is the Year for Galileo

Galileo will likely meet a major milestone this summer, launching their first two satellites for in-orbit validation. But unlike the two Galileo test satellites already in orbit (GIOVE-A and GIOVE-B), these satellites will be part of the planned 30-satellite operating constellation.

For you Galileo naysayers, the EU is past the point of no return. Eighteen satellites are contracted. There is no reversing the process. And, if I were to place a bet, it’s very unlikely to stall at 18. That would be sort of like building a structure, but not finishing the interior.

Although I haven’t seen a detailed launch schedule or control segment plan, the latest Galileo public document I’ve read (European Commission – Montpellier, October 2010) presents the following timeline:

2011/2012 – In-Orbit validation: Four IOV satellites and ground segment (based on European Commission presentation from October 2010).

2014/2015 – Initial Operating Capability for early services — 18 satellites (based on European Commission presentation from October 2010).

2019/2020 – Full Operating Capability — 30 satellites
(based on mid-term review released January 18, 2011)

2014 Will Be the Year of Cheap GNSS Accuracy

I believe the magic year for GNSS will be 2014. That’s when GNSS receivers are going to be very interesting.


It’s no secret that I think the new L5 signal is a game-changer. Last summer I wrote an article titled “What’s Going to Happen When High-Accuracy GPS is Cheap?”  It’s all about L5.

L1/L5 dual-frequency receivers are going to be cheap, and accurate. Today, dual-frequency (L1/L2) receivers are thousands of dollars. L1/L5 receivers will be a fraction of that cost because open signal specifications will lead to increased competition.

As I mentioned in the article last summer, the GPS Directorate is planned to have 24 satellites broadcasting L5 by 2019. The beauty of Galileo is that it can cut that time in half and make it happen by 2014, only three years from now. Here’s how.

Since Galileo supports L1 and L5 similar to GPS, you only need 12 x GPS satellites broadcasting L5 and 12 x Galileo satellites broadcasting L5 to have something close to 24 satellites broadcasting L5.

The BIG question is if the U.S. and EU will coordinate orbit slots so the 12 x GPS and 12 x Galileo satellites are in a somewhat optimal 24-slot constellation instead of an uncoordinated configuration. The civil economic benefit from taking advantage of L5 as soon as possible would be substantial. Just this week, the EU issued a report stating that 6-7% of the GDP of EU countries is dependent on satellite navigation. Better accuracy enabled by L1/L5 will spur a mind-boggling number of new applications that will further broaden the GNSS user base and economic impact. It would also stimulate GNSS receiver development from a much broader range of GNSS receiver designers than we see today.

With a combined GPS/Galileo constellation, not only will accuracy become cheaper, but availability will increase significantly. The new GPS 24+ 3 configuration is certainly a big help for high precision users with respect to availability. Can you imagine how much precise positioning availability will improve when 18 Galileo satellites (not to mention 30) are added to the mix? Last summer, the EU-U.S. Cooperation on Satellite Navigation Working Group C published a report entitled “Combined Performance for Open GPS/Galileo Receivers.” The report succinctly draws the following conclusion, with which I wholeheartedly agree:

“The studies demonstrate and quantify the improvements that can be expected when using GPS and Galileo open services in combination under different environmental conditions. In all studied cases, the combination of GPS and Galileo led to noteworthy performance improvements as compared to single system performance. The most significant improvement is for partially obscured environments, where buildings, trees or terrain block portions of the sky. The increased number of satellites available provides robust performance even as some signals are blocked, which is reflected in a significant increase of positioning accuracy and availability.”

Following are some data from the report that back up the conclusions on availability.

Availability with a 15° elevation mask

GPS only – 99.10%

Galileo only – 100%

GPS/Galileo – 100%

Availability with a 30° degree elevation mask

GPS only – 57.28%

Galileo only – 75.02%

GPS/Galileo – 98.93%

Granted, you should take these numbers with a grain of salt. These are based on positioning with four satellites in view. The reality is that for high precision users, we need data from at least six satellites for robust positioning. But, I think the scale of improvement when going to GPS/Galileo constellation is obvious and will scale similarly when considering six satellite positioning.

For all the reasons above, I’m putting my stamp on 2011 as being The Year of Galileo. Look forward to further coverage on Galileo in the coming months.

Upcoming Jan. 26 WebinarSBAS, DGPS or Post-processing? Which Should You Use?


Eric Gakstatter, Editor, Geospatial Solutions and Survey Scene newsletter &

Dr. Mike Whitehead, VP of Technology at Hemisphere GPS

Event Date: 01/26/2011 10:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, 5 PM GMT

Tens of thousands of users around the world utilize GPS/GNSS receivers for mapping, surveying and navigating. Since autonomous GPS/GNSS typically does not provide the needed accuracy, users must rely on a source of GPS/GNSS corrections. There are three sources of GPS/GNSS corrections available to users who desire reliable GPS/GNSS accuracy in the sub-meter to three meter range: SBAS, DGPS and post-processing. Dr. Michael Whitehead, Chief Scientist at Hemisphere GPS, will join me in presenting a background on the three technologies as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each. I’ve known Mike for a number of years. He was an early innovator in the development of SBAS technology at Satloc as well as SBAS and DGPS receiver technology at Hemisphere GPS. He is one of the leading GNSS engineers in the world. I’m particularly excited about this event and promise a lively discussion that’s full of useful information, data and concepts that anyone using or considering using GPS/GNSS for mapping, surveying or navigating will find useful.

Thanks, and see you next time.

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