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The System: Vistas from the Summit

April 1, 2010  - By

“This is an event where one gets one’s goals for the next year.” Paul Verhoef, program director for satellite navigation programs of the European Commission, may have exaggerated for effect, and for the benefit of his audience and hosts at the Munich Satellite Navigation Summit in March. But not by much.

The conference, now in its eighth year, has assumed increasing importance on the international circuit of GNSS policymakers and communicators. Although with a decidedly European bent, it draws representatives from most if not all systems to mingle and present. A 16-member delegation from China’s Compass system furnished one of the liveliest topics of conversation — and speculation.

“When we started in 2003, there were many technical conferences on the one side, and we saw a niche for the institutional and political side of satellite navigation,” said Berned Eissfeller of the Institute of Geodesy and Navigation, German Federal Armed Forces University, conference director and host. You can watch video clips of Eissfeller and other speakers.

GNSS came in for a check-up, a sort of self-examination this time. The 2009 conference was titled “The GNSS Race,” but this year it was “GNSS — Quo Vadis?” The Latin phrase means “Where are you going?” Following program updates, sessions focused on safety-of-life, compatibility, legal/intellectual property, and privacy issues.

Galileo. Paul Verhoef continued his remarks that open this story. “I have been given [my goal]: Galileo must succeed.

“You know the world today is not what it was a year ago. It means obviously the financial crisis has had an impact on our economies, on public finance, and therefore I would not be surprised it may leave its mark on satellite navigation. The reason is simple: the systems that are either operating or being deployed are being publicly financed. Galileo is the only system that is financed from a purely civilian budget. All the systems need more than ever to demonstrate their public utility.

“I put it to you that this is an opportunity. As we’ve already heard, there is much to be gained in this market. After the PC, mobile communications, and Internet, satellite navigation is the next breakthrough technology. There are enormous revenues foreseen and already present in this market. There are many jobs possible for those who want to get it, and we think from the European side we have an enormous chance of capitalizing on this among other things by investing in this technology. Therefore, Galileo- and EGNOS-based innovation is certainly politically of interest.

“Obviously, it is not a path of roses. There will no doubt be many more critical questions during these days. However, from our side, we have set our goals. I think they are modest, but they are firm. We want to be the second system of choice. At least in the first instance, we will see where we will go after that. Obviously, this is going to cost a bit of time. I shall invite you, if you get impatient, if the public gets impatient, to look at the history of the other systems. Developing and deploying these other systems is costing time.

“We think that Galileo will meet its deadlines. I think one of the important messages this year, and you have seen it, we are putting things in place. There are contracts in place, there are satellites on order, there are launches on order, there are installations being built — Oberpfaffenhoffen, Fucino, there are others around the world — EGNOS is operational, we’re going to declare the safety-of-life of EGNOS later this year. So we are really moving forward at good speed at the moment.

“We need to win the hearts of the users, the application providers, and the service providers. At the downstream market is the real challenge for these systems. We need to help do that. We are addressing this among other things by providing a more and more reliable schedule for availability of Galileo and EGNOS services.”

Galileo ICD Soon. “We are about to publish in the next couple of weeks the so-called signal-in-space Open Service interface control document, which I know a number of you have waited for a long time.

“We need also to move forward at a political level. In this case, no GNSS system can be credible if it is not backed by a long-term political commitment particularly by its owner. So after the decision of the Parliament and the Council to deploy the system, these two institutions are now clearly called upon to provide us such political long-term commitment that is credible in the eyes of the users.”

GPS. Anthony Russo, director of the U.S. National Space-Based PNT Coordination Office, said “Keeping cards close to the chest in a competitive situation can well become a liability, creating a future need for a re-work or undoing if you paint yourself into a technological corner.” This appeared to refer to China and its Compass system; information has been singularly difficult to obtain on almost every aspect of this budding constellation.

Regarding the April 2009 U.S. General Accountability Office report that forecast gaps in constellation availability, Russo stated, “The GAO will revise its report somewhat. They were using a model that was a little too cautious, one used by the [GPS] Wing. But satellites on orbit have been performing past estimated life. Further, we can turn off secondary payloads to conserve energy onboard satellites [and thus extend life] if needed.”

The next morning, Lt. Col. Liz Roper, Air Force Space Command, gave a status and modernization briefing; the most eagerly awaited development is the launch of the first Block II-F satellite, scheduled for some time in May. She alluded to “a few setbacks” from the August 2009 launch of SVN49 with its well-documented signal problems, but emphasized the episode’s “positive aspects: the relationships we’ve been able to build in seeking solutions to that situation.”

GLONASS. Grigoriy Stupak, deputy general director and general designer on GLONASS systems, briefed the audience in fluent Russian. For a recent launch update, see story below.


Compass. Two of the Chinese delegates spoke in the opening session. Jiao Wenhai from China Satellite Navigation Office did elaborate the basic principles of the Beidou (Compass) system:

  • openness (“China will widely and thoroughly communicate with other countries on satellite navigation issues.”)
  • independence
  • compatibility (“China will pursue solutions to realize compatibility and interoperability with other satellite navigation systems.”)
  • gradualness.

He promised an English-language version of the governmental website or “soon.” Wenhai recapped:

  • the frequencies Compass will use: 1561.098, 1207.14, and 1268.52 Mhz in Phase II until 2012; and 1575.42, 1191.795, and 1268.52 in Phase III by 2020.
  • the general development plan: five geosynchronous, five inclined geosynchronous, and four mid-Earth orbit satellites providing a Chinese regional service using mainly Compass Phase II signals; then development of a global service broadcasting mainly Compass Phase III signals from five GEO, three IGSO, and 27 MEO satellites.

The Chinese speakers displayed a certain disingenuousness in giving verbally and in their slides the location of the January launch, Beidou G1 geostationary satellite, as 160 degrees East, somewhere over the open Pacific. When GPS World pointed out that NORAD satellite tracking shows G1 has been repositioned to a slot at 144.5 degrees East longitude, they huddled for several minutes before stating that yes, it had moved to that position and was undergoing in-orbit testing. That spot was previously occupied by Beidou 1D, apparently decommisioned about a year ago due to power problems. 1D currently orbits in graveyard above geostationary altitude.

A personage civilly associated with the U.S. Air Force confirmed the actual G1 location to the magazine, and could only speculate that it was more advantageous to Chinese ground control for monitoring and testing. As to why spokespersons misstated the location, that remains inscrutable.

GLONASS Back in Black

Three GLONASS-M satellites launched on March 1 are expected to enter service on March 22 and March 30, according to deputy general director Grigoriy Stupak’s statement in Munich. This would bring the constellation, according to his calculations, to 23 operational satellites, though two of those are held in reserve.

With 21 satellites broadcasting signals, the system claim 98.5 percent global availability. Block 42 (three more satellites) has an August 2010 launch date, and Block 43 one for November 2010. By December, Stupak predicted 24 active satellites on orbit, for 99.5 percent global availability.

The GLONASS-M satellites have a stated seven-year lifetime. CDMA signals will begin with next-generation GLONASS-K satellites, while FDMA signals continue in parallel. The Russians plan to “reach 5-meter accuracy by 2017, almost equal to accuracy of other GNSS,” and are “paying more attention to differential corrections for integrity monitoring.”

ICG Questions

The International Committee on GNSS (ICG) Working Group on Compatibility and Interoperability invites GPS industry members to fill out a questionnaire, provided online in two formats: as a downloadable MS Word document or a PDF.

The Industry and User Community Questionnaire is designed to obtain worldwide input from industry, academic institutions, and other representatives of the GNSS user community with technical expertise regarding GNSS signals and other system characteristics that aid or hinder the combined use of the signals in applications, equipment, or services. For instance, respondents are asked to grade certain signal characteristics as to their importance in overall interoperability considerations for a particular type of application.

Respondents are asked to e-mail completed questionnaires to the ICG by May 28.

To download instructions and the form, go to

About the Author:

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

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