Time to Hit Warp Speed, Galileo

April 23, 2013  - By
Image: GPS World

Report from ENC: Constellation Needs 22 Satellites in Three Years

Launch, deploy, and operate “22 satellites in less than 3 years.” That’s two satellites every three months, leading to a four-at-once launch in 2014. And that’s the challenge that Europe and the European Space Agency (ESA) now face.

This pointed call to action during the opening plenary of the European Navigation Conference (ENC) came from Didier Faivre, director of Galileo Programme and Navigation Related Activities at ESA. It was the only somber note sounded during the keynote speeches, which otherwise paraded the stirring recent accomplishments of the Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase. IOV now concludes, and Galileo’s operational phase opens.

The ENC takes place in Vienna, Austria this week (April 23–25), hosted by the Austrian Institute of Navigation. Privately and informally, a handful of knowledgeable conference attendees expressed confidence that OHB System can furnish the completed satellites, at least, according to schedule. OHB System is the prime contractor for  construction of 22 Full Operational Capability (FOC) Galileo satellites and is responsible for developing the satellite bus and for integrating the satellites. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) is developing and constructing the navigation payload and  assisting OHB with final satellite assembly.

“Using only European tools and means, European ground infrastructure deployed on European territory, our conception, machine and design, is totally validated,” stated Faivre, referring to the recent Galileo-only positioning fix by ESA. The March 12, 2013, event marks “the end of the beginning,” and culminates 12 years of intense work at all levels of European industry.

“Europe is at par with GPS” with performance as expected. “I hope that soon our U.S. colleagues will be jealous of our performance,” Faivre stated, implying yet again the persistent Galileo claim that the system will be more accurate than GPS. He returned to this theme with reference to Fugro’s accomplishment of real-time precise point positioning at the centimeter level.

He acknowledged that “It’s a technological competition with the United States, Russia, and China,” even though all may be friendly and collegial.

In that competitive light, “the success of Galileo will be measured by the number of users,” and not by the number of satellites, or the degree of accuracy, or the strength of the signal.

Previously, the ENC audience had heard from Ingolf Schädler that “Europe has closed the gap with the technological superpowers,” in what “may be the most complex invention ever of mankind, the system of navigation that is GNSS.” He also made a proud reference to Austrian-produced signal generators aboard Galileo’s orbiting IOV satellites. Schädler is the deputy director general of innovation for the Austrian federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology.

“We have reached cruising speed,” announced the third keynote speaker, Carlo des Dorides of the European GNSS Agency (GSA). He was referring explicitly to the re-positioning of the GSA headquarters from Brussels to Prague, but the remarks reverberated to the Galileo program as a whole.

David Blanchard, deputy head of unit, EU Satellite Navigation Programmes for the European Commission, quoted an unnamed U.S. publication: “With the capability to make a position fix from four signal-broadcasting satellites, we can now say that Galileo has truly arrived.”

That statement appeared in the May 2013 GPS World, an issue of the magazine that was distributed in conference bags to all attendees at the ENC.

Blanchard then shifted the focus slightly from Galileo, to Galileo together with the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), Europe’s satellite-based augmentation service that also broadcasts GPS corrections. “We have to make sure that all the capabilities afforded by EGNOS are realized.” He also made strong references to the EGNOS Data Access Service (EDAS).

Blanchard cited a current ongoing study that shows that 6 to 7 percent of European gross domestic product (GDP) is dependent upon GNSS.

“A gold mine within arm’s reach of European industry” was how Gard Ueland, head of Galileo Services, characterized the present situation. “Development of European downstream market is crucial; it also has to bring more benefits to European society.” Galileo Services will host a workshop of  industry stakeholders in late October, at the OHB System premises in Bremen, Germany. Watch GPS World Events calendar and news for an announcement with specific dates.

Having attained altitude and cruising speed, the Galileo program must now shift to warp speed to hit its goals on time: 18 satellites in orbit by the end of 2014, and a total of 26 by the end of 2015. Early services by the end of 2014, and full services in 2016. Stable, continuous services, as Blanchard emphasized.

Better go to overdrive.