Farnborough Air Show

Galileo’s ‘early services’ a bid to stimulate market

 - July 7, 2008, 6:58 AM

Last year was a challenging time for Galileo, Europe’s fledgling global navigation satellite system (GNSS). It started with the collapse of the private consortium established to build the system and culminated in European Union transport ministers making a “do or die” decision to allow the European Commission (EC) to manage the project in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA). Now the program is run by the Brussels-based European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA).
The distraction and inevitable knock-on effects have delayed the system to the point where some are calling for a basic capability to be established before the main system can be operational, to encourage the GPS systems market to start making their devices Galileo compatible.

According to Phil Davies, business development manager for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), which was acquired by EADS Astrium (Hall 4 Stand G16) in April this year, “The European Commission has had a Galileo unit for around a decade and has part-financed the program. The idea was to become a PPP [Public-Private Partnership] by creating the Galileo joint undertaking last year but that fell through, and now it’s going to be publicly financed.”

SSTL (Hall 5 Stand ISP 15) built Giove-A, the first Galileo testbed satellite, launched in December 2005. Giove-B was built by EADS Astrium, Thales, Alenia Space and others, and SSTL now is building the third testbed satellite, Giove-A2. This project currently is on hold while ESA decides the exact mission, but
it could be launched within 15 months of a go-ahead being given.

“ESA is currently preoccupied with Giove-B, which was launched from Kazakhstan at the end of April,” added Davies. “Then it will award a contract for the first four operational satellites for in-orbit validation [IOV], which we believe could be used to set up early services, getting the signal up there so that the man in the street can start using Galileo. They could then get another four or eight satellites up as quickly as possible, which could be done based on the Giove design. This would encourage the equipment manufacturers to include Galileo capability.” Evidently, the EC is now considering this suggestion.

Whether the legal and financial conditions are finally met in order to start definitively entering the development phase of Galileo is a question the EC is currently trying to answer. Pedro Pedreira, GSA executive director, said during a high-level meeting on June 19 that the €3.4 billion ($5.2 billion) already allocated to Galileo is only part of what is needed to ensure success. “We need to attract new capital, not from public sources but from the private sector…To make this happen we have to meet our operational targets and then stimulate market players to come on board,” he said.

SSTL is based at the University of Surrey in Guildford, close to Farnborough. It is working with German company OHB on a bid to provide operational satellites for Galileo, which EU ministers agree should be operational by 2013 with ground operation centers in Munich, Germany, and Fucio, east of Rome, Italy. Other countries to have joined the project at some level of cooperation include China, Israel, Ukraine, India, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. China and India also have their own proposed systems–Compass and IRNSS, respectively.

Much criticism has been leveled at the EC by the U.S., which is not convinced of the need for another system in addition to GPS, which already costs $750 million a year to maintain. Nevertheless, in 2004 the U.S. agreed to harmonize the system architectures so they were similar enough to work together, thus offering more satellites to users. Galileo will have 30 satellites when complete, while the GPS system has 24 and is being upgraded to GPS-3 standard.

The UK’s scrutiny of the EC in relation to Galileo has been fierce. Members of the British Parliament have pressed hard, but unsuccessfully, to get accurate cost estimates. They have also expressed concern about the consequences of a five-year delay to the program.

Industry has reinforced these concerns. Pat Norris, manager of defense and space strategy at Logica, said, “The EC has decreed that it is in charge of the program [Galileo] but there has to be some doubt over its ability to manage it. It is the first time it has managed anything on this scale.”