Galileo Countdown to 10 by Year’s End

March 26, 2014  - By
Europe’s Galileo satnav system.

Europe’s Galileo satnav system.

Signs Point Toward Early Services in December, If ESA Delivers

A February conference on the European Union’s space policy in Brussels sought to set a course for 2020 and close official ranks behind the prospect of early Galileo services at the end of this year. Much in the business community’s perception of the new system — critical for device availability and mass- and professional-market adoption of Galileo — will depend on meeting the projected unveiling of early services in December. This is turn depends on an operational 10-satellite constellation; the fleet now stands at four.

Among trends noted at the meeting: the growing importance of the European GNSS Agency (GSA)  as Galileo service provider, with perhaps more authority — and budget — than it has had in the past to get the job done. “The GSA will gradually assume responsibility for the operational management of the programmes while ESA will remain responsible for the deployment of Galileo, and the design and development of new generation of systems,” announced the European Commision (EC).

EC Vice President Antonio Tajani reiterated there will be three Galileo launches in 2014 to reach the requisite year-end total. “The first will come in June. Two satellites have passed the necessary tests. We need to keep this up, and continue to raise our game.”

Trouble on the Equator. The next two Galileo satellites may be ready to ship to Europe’s spaceport in South America by early April. But a large European commercial satellite customer is crowding the schedule, pressuring launch operator Arianespace to lift its satellites first. This could delay the Galileo birds, now set for June rise.

ESA’s year-end plan calls for two more dual-satellite launches in October and December on Russian Soyuz rockets — new partners to the Galileo dance, bringing perhaps new technical connectivity issues.

It’s Not Easy. With Galileo and EGNOS  financed to the tune of €7 billion for 2014–2020, expectations are high, yet the European Commission brings a decidely conservative approach to expenditure on new ventures.

“To take a chance, to do what no one has ever done — it’s not easy in a culture that doesn’t like risk,” said ESA director Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Other conference speakers pointed to the securely established European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), the first generation of Europe’s GNSS, now fully operational.

Carlo des Dorides, executive director of the GSA, responsible for operating EGNOS through the EGNOS Service Provider (ESSP), elaborated on his big job in 2014: maintaining and improving EGNOS performance and maximizing user adoption, particularly in the aviation, maritime transport, and rail transport sectors.

“The experience we gain through our work with EGNOS will be instrumental as we move towards Galileo service delivery.”

As well as organizational experience with EGNOS, user adoption of the GNSS precursor augurs much for Galileo. With one eye on the present and another on the future, the GSA has a big serving coming to its plate by December: management of a long-awaited, heavily invested system that has been in discussion since the 1990s and in various stages of gestation since 2000.

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