Survey Perspectives – Early May 2008

May 6, 2008  - By
Image: GPS World

What’s up with Galileo

Given some recent events, it’s about time to check in with you regarding Galileo, Europe’s attempt at creating a satellite navigation system similar to GPS. There’s also been some activity on the GLONASS front that is worth writing about too.

In my Directions 2007 article in the December 2006 issue of GPS World magazine, I wrote that Galileo has huge potential benefits for the survey/construction user. But I also wrote that the key new items to watch for would be significant delays. And the delays did come. The problem has been that Galileo is becoming known as the most talked about satellite navigation system that has never been … vaporware, if you will. The program has been belabored with delays and hiccups of both the political and financial sort for many years. One would surmise that after so many miscues that people would stop talking about it. The reason people don’t stop talking about it is that the benefits of Galileo to the satellite navigation user are so significant.

One of the major challenges that Galileo faces is funding. Galileo is to be the first global, civilian satellite navigation system. While GPS and Russia’s GLONASS are both funded by their respective defense departments, Galileo was going to be funded by a partnership between civilian government and commercial entities referred to as the Private Public Partnership (PPP). Exactly how much was private funding and how much was public (government) funding was the question that was a moving target for years.

Until May 2007, the PPP ball was in the hands of a consortium of private companies with the likes of Thales, Alcatel and Inmarsat among other members. Their job was to formulate a plan on how to operate Galileo; essentially, they were trying to figure out how to make it a viable commercial venture. They couldn’t come up with a plan, so in May 2007 Europe abandoned the PPP approach and conceded that the only way Galileo was going to get off the ground was via public funds, to the tune of €3.4 billion. In late 2007, the Galileo program was near death when the European Union (EU), comprising 27 countries, voted in November 2007 to keep Galileo alive, although funding was still an issue.

Just last month, the European Union transport ministers approved the Galileo Implementation Regulation, which allocates that €3.4 billion taken from the EU agriculture and administration budgets. With the money flowing and all 27 countries of the EU in favor, the path to launching Galileo seems as clear as it’s ever been. The next step is releasing contracts for the ground infrastructure and satellites. The European Parliament subsequently cleared the last bureaucratic hurdle later in the month. It approved legislative regulations that lay down security requirements for Galileo and the European Geostationary Satellite Navigation Service (EGNOS), both of which will be managed by the European Commission and the European Global Navigation Satellite System Supervisory Authority.

With the funding seemingly taken care of, however, the implementation schedule is less clear. The EU says the system will be ready by 2013. Folks, that’s only five years from now, not very long at all in the space systems business. They need to build the ground infrastructure, launch 30 satellites and write the software that needs to control and monitor all of the systems.

As far-fetched as the schedule may seem, Europe is dangling the Galileo carrot and I’m still chasing after it.

There is even a carrot dangling in orbit; the second Galileo satellite, GIOVE-B, lifted off late last month. Only 29 more to go — 28, if you count GIOVE-A, but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth.

I have a lot of patience because I’ve bet all along that Galileo was going to materialize. The reason is because of one key application that no other country is going to rely on a U.S. military system for: aviation navigation. It’s abundantly clear that the future of aviation navigation will be based on satellite navigation. How comfortable would the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration be with basing their entire navigation system on a foreign, military-run navigation system? They wouldn’t be and they wouldn’t do it. I think that’s about as comfortable as the EU would be with banking its aviation navigation future on GPS. GPS was a great proof-of-concept tool for them, but I don’t see how it’s a long-term solution for them. Galileo is.

We, as precision users of GNSS, would benefit greatly from Galileo. Frankly, if I had to choose between GPS modernization (L2C/L5/GPS III) and Galileo, I’d take Galileo. Even with 31 healthy GPS satellites broadcasting today, I still find myself losing productivity in the field because of the lack of satellite signals, and I hear similar complaints from others. If you’re trying to do elevation work, it’s even worse. Having ~30 GPS satellites and ~30 Galileo satellites available would mean your average number of satellites in view would be 20 plus. Your PDOP values would be ridiculously low throughout the day. Your redundancy and reliability would be ridiculously high. You wouldn’t have to choose a particular time of day to do your elevation work. Machine control wouldn’t be only usable in wide-open sky environments. These are days to dream about.

One could argue that Russia’s GLONASS system is closer to achieving this than Galileo. With GLONASS having 14 operational satellites, it’s a valid argument. But GPS and GLONASS were designed when the US and Russia were Cold War enemies. You can bet that United States and Russian scientists weren’t cooperating at that time. On the other hand, once the U.S. government decided to support Galileo (they didn’t initially), United States and European scientists worked closely together to ensure that GPS/Galileo receivers would work efficiently.

GLONASS/GPS receivers aren’t efficient by any stretch of the imagination. GPS is based on CDMA technology whereas GLONASS is based on FDMA technology. It’s kind of like designing a video cassette recorder (VCR) that accepts both VHS and Beta tapes in the same slot. You can design it, but there are consequences. One example in GPS/GLONASS receivers is that the receiver must use one GLONASS satellite to sync the two systems together. In real terms, if your GPS/GLONASS receiver is tracking three GLONASS satellites, only two are used. Power consumption is another issue.

These are some of the reasons you’ll never see a GLONASS/GPS receiver in the consumer market from Garmin, TomTom, Magellan, etc.

In response to pressure to be more compatible with GPS and Galileo, Russia announced earlier this year that they are near final approval in adding CDMA architecture to their GLONASS-K generation of satellites that are scheduled for launch in 2010. It’s a smart move on Russia’s part, as any system using anything other than CMDA in the next decade is going to be largely ignored by the manufacturers.

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