Billions of satnav position fixes are performed daily, but determining your place in the world using Europe’s Galileo system is quite new. Because of this, in March the European Space Agency (ESA) offered to issue certificates for the first 50 Galileo fixes.
Responses to the offer came from around the world. While half the applications came from Galileo’s home continent, others came from Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, New Zealand, Russia, the United States, and Vietnam.
The first two satellites of Europe’s Galileo constellation were launched in October 2011, followed by two more a year later. Four is the minimum needed for determining position, allowing testing of the full Galileo system to begin.
The historic first positioning fix using only Europe’s civil-owned navigation system took place at ESA’s Navigation Laboratory in its ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on March 12, 2013.
Galileo’s navigation signals could be picked up anywhere in the world that the orbiting satellites come into view, however. Equipped teams from industry, universities, research centers, and government institutions took the opportunity to perform their own fixes, along with a couple of private individuals.
The Galileo team knew of fixes being performed on an informal basis. The idea came to mark the anniversary of the first positioning fix by issuing commemorative certificates to groups who had picked up the signals to perform their own fixes. Teams were asked to include details of the receiver they used, the start and finish of the fixes in Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) and a plot of their latitude/longitude positioning overlaid on a map, such as Google Earth.
- Italy turned out to be the single best-represented country in Europe, with six separate fixes,
- Germany and the UK followed Italy closely with five fixes each.
- Several groups achieved fixes on the very same day as ESA.
Most of the receivers were software-based radio systems, with signal processing performed by software on a computer linked to a radio-frequency front end. Professional receivers were also customized.
- A private individual from Gdansk, Poland, used his own receiver to perform a fix, intended for amateur rocketry.
- An individual in Pec, Hungary, achieved a fix with a modified receiver.
- Most of the applications were obtained with static receivers and simple position fixes with Galileo’s Open Service signals, but there were some special cases. These included precise point positioning, where offline processing is applied to give extremely precise centimeter-scale positioning — typically used in surveying, the oil and gas industries, and precision agriculture. Some of these fixes were actually performed before the first real-time positioning fixes, including fixes done at the University of New Brunswick.
- Belgium’s Royal Military Academy performed Galileo’s first position fix at sea, aboard Belgian frigate Leopold-I, which sailed along the Norwegian coast.
- A navigation company from New Zealand performed positioning while walking.
- A technology firm in Slovakia performed drive testing.
- A German telecom company made use of the satellite signals for timing and network synchronization. One of the most important applications of Galileo will be as a nanosecond-scale time source, enabling the effective synching of financial, power and data networks around the globe.
The certificates will be issued soon.
General use of Galileo will begin as more satellites join the first four in orbit so the first services can be rolled out. The next two Galileo satellites are in French Guiana, beginning their preparations for launch.
It should take only a slight software update to ready the current generations of satnav receivers to work with Galileo signals, ESA said.