By Peter de Selding
The message to the recent European Space Solutions conference in Prague was simple enough: EGNOS is here, so let’s use it; Galileo is almost here, so let’s promote it.
Neither task is straightforward.
Take the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), the European piece of a near-global network of terminals on geostationary satellites linked to networks of ground stations to verify GPS signal accuracy, primarily for aviation but with further applications as well. Other pieces of this global network are the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) in the United States, the System for Differential Corrections and Monitoring (SDCM) in Russia, GPS-aided GEO-augmented Navigation (GAGAN) in India, and Multi-functional Satellite Augmentation System (MSAS) in Japan.
EGNOS is operational. It works. Once airports publish the required specificafions for localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPVs), aircraft with EGNOS terminals ultimately will be able to use EGNOS for flight terminations up to as low as 200 feet above the runway. Gone is the need for runway infrastructure, and welcome to the long-promised world of satellite-based augmentation systems. “It offers cheap solutions for precision approach,” said Fabio Gamba, chief executive of the European Business Aviation Association.
In the United States, where business aviation is a bigger market than in Europe, some 3,400 LPVs have been published for 1,670 airports. In Europe, the equivalent figure is 108 LPVs at 77 airports.
Why the sluggish response? Gamba cited a long list of issues, including some that appeared more political than technical. Part of the reason, some said, was that the EGNOS backers, including the company under contract to manage the system — European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP) of Toulouse, France — have not done enough to get the word out.
After all, these observers said, EGNOS suffered multiple delays, and its bigger younger brother, Galileo, has had bad press for years as its business model, ownership, regulatory backing, and schedule took turns in making eyes roll in Europe.
But that’s yesterday’s issue. Thierry Racaud, chief executive of ESSP, said EGNOS posted greater than 99 percent availability in May for its safety-of-life service, which is currently available on none of the other regional GPS augmentation systems except WAAS.
Racaud promised that the 108 LPVs signed so far would grow to 180 by the end of this year, and that 200-foot level approaches would be certified by late 2015. He said he hoped all 28 member nations of the European Union would have concluded their EGNOS regulatory approvals by 2017 or 2018.
“What we need now is more users,” Racaud said.
If EGNOS is not well known on its home turf, imagine its status in Africa, where European companies are trying to sell its adoption. Abdel Nasser Saint’Anna, director of the EGNOS-Africa Joint Program Office, said Africa should be Exhibit A for an EGNOS success pitch. Of the 2,500 runways in Africa, he said, only 177 were equipped with instrument landing systems (ILS), the system EGNOS and Galileo ultimately would like to replace.
Galileo, with Four, in Fourth
Galileo, too, appears headed for a successful adoption in many areas around the world even if, once operational, it likely will be the fourth global GNSS system in place, after GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and China’s BeiDou — not counting the large regional Indian and Japanese systems now being developed.
For those with scorecards, recall that four Galileo satellites, designed to validate the system’s performance, are in orbit. Carlos des Dorides, director of the European GNSS Agency (GSA) in Prague, said tests in May proved Galileo’s interoperability with GPS.
More importantly, des Dorides said the tests demonstrated how much better it is for consumers when their terminals access GPS and Galileo together. That should be obvious. Less obvious: Results were much better than with terminals tracking both GPS and GLONASS, he said.
The more satellites, the better? Yes, at least up to a point. Whether terminal manufacturers will see fit to incorporate all four global GNSS constellations, plus one or two of the regionals, in their hardware remains to be seen.
But the pent-up demand for Galileo does now seem better than it was as little as a year ago, despite the fact that some Asian nations attending the conference said they need Galileo to demonstrate its vitality sooner rather than later. Some officials said signal-quality issues with Beidou, and the recent GLONASS outage, will more than make up for Galileo’s delays as long as deployment progress is visible.
The fact remains that by 2020 there will be more than 100 GNSS satellites in medium-Earth orbit, in addition to the augmentation terminals on geostationary satellites.
A graphic presented by SpaceTec Partners’ Rainer Horn, whose company has been charged with preparing the Asian market for Galileo, showed just how dense the Asian skies will be with GNSS assets at the end of the decade. India, China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are SpaceTec’s current Asian targets.
The message from these markets: Launch Galileo now. Drum up support. Occupy the media space.
Did the European Commission get the message? Time will tell. The next opportunity to wave the Galileo flag comes in late August, when the first two of 22 full-operational-capability satelllites will be launched from Europe’s spaceport in South America. Two more are scheduled to follow late this year.
Eight satellites in orbit by Christmas will not make an operational service, whatever the brochures say. But does that matter? Galileo now has secure funding, through 2020, for most — not all — of what it needs to launch a full constellation. Absent a new issue, by 2017 few will remember the delays.
Paul Weissenberg of the European Commission, who has seen the Galileo wars up close, reminded the European Space Solutions audience in Prague that one future Galileo customer sits outside the commission’s offices, waiting for approval to use Galileo’s PRS encrypted service. The U.S. Defense Department’s desire for Galileo does not have an expiration date. Just launch it.