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Galileo is right on track

Galileo is right on track
Published on: 01/03/2012
Author: Enterprise & Industry magazine

The launch of the first two Galileo IOV (In-Orbit Validation) satellites on 21 October 2011 was a red-letter day for the European Union's global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and the project continues to advance through important milestones. While the European GNSS Agency (GSA) is going to set up its headquarters in Prague, new contracts for satellites and launchers signed in the presence of Vice President Tajani ensure that Galileo will deliver its first services in 2014 as planned. The potential benefits for the European industry and the economy at large are significant.

By signing three new business contracts in early 2012, the European Commission ordered an additional eight satellites and secured the launch of these satellites which includes the adaptation of the Ariane 5 rocket. The fourth deal, a hosting agreement with the Czech government provided the GSA with new headquarters.

Thus, the European Commission’s aim of granting EU citizens and enterprises access to the benefits of the new satellite navigation system in 2014 is on target. 

EU satellite agency moves to Prague

After nearly five years in Brussels, the European GNSS Agency is the first EU regulatory authority to set up headquarters in the Czech Republic. In September, the GSA-team will start its work in the former Czech Consolidation Agency in Prague, also known as the "Golden City".

The Czech government is not only fully committed to the agency and GNSS, but the country is the Eastern European pioneer when it comes to using GNSS in agriculture. Furthermore it has a cutting edge aerospace industry. The agency will be sharing the building with the Czech Space Agency.

Market opportunities for the European industry

Pavel Dobeš, Minister of Transport of the Czech Republic, and the GSA’s executive director Carlo des Dorides, signed the host agreement on 27 January, the second day of the Sixth Galileo Applications Congress, in Prague.

Satellite-navigation experts and stakeholders from all over the world gathered to discuss benefits and opportunities of this ambitious EU-project. "This is a good moment to take stock of where we are and where we are going with Galileo," des Dorides said in his opening address. "The focus is on the future, with an expanded mission for our Agency."

The GSA consists of seven departments ranging from security to market development. While the European Commission sets the GSA’s political agenda, the European Space Agency provides the engineering know-how. Therefore, the GSA can guarantee a smooth functioning satellite system and concentrate on its market penetration. Raising potential users' awareness of the wide range of services and applications Galileo will make possible is also crucial in order for the European economy to take full advantage of the benefits the system offers.

First services in 2014

The GSA ensures Galileo’s security accreditation, and by 2014 the two security monitoring centres will be ready for operations. It is expected that the services will start on time in 2014, thanks to three new supplier contracts:

  • The European Commission awarded the German OHB System AG with a 250-million-euros contract to build another eight satellites for the Galileo system. Two years ago, the company from Bremen had won a tender to build 14 satellites worth 566 million euros.
  • Furthermore, the European Commission called on the expertise of European industry, securing a booking option of up to three satellite launches with an Ariane-5-rocket. The flagship of the French space transportation company will be adapted in order to be able to carry four Galileo satellites per launch.
  • The adaptation will be carried out by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company subsidiary Astrium SAS, with whom the Commission signed an additional contract worth approximately 30 million euros. Currently, Galileo satellites are launched into space in pairs by Russian Soyuz rockets.

Antonio Tajani, Vice President of the European Commission in charge of Industry and Entrepreneurship, declared: “For Galileo, today’s signing signifies the concrete roll-out of the programme is on time and within budget. I am proud that we could manage to speed up the delivery of satellites and launchers. This means that Europeans will be able to exploit the opportunities of enhanced satellite navigation provided by Galileo in 2014.”

Encouraging results

Meanwhile, the two satellites in orbit have demonstrated their functionality, transmitting test signals to the European Space Agency’s ground station in Redu, Belgium.

As confirmed by ESA, the two in-orbit validation (IOV) satellites launched in October are performing extremely well. They are currently undergoing a vast test campaign, to check all their systems and payload and the results received until now are above expectations.

The tests are part of the Galileo programme’s first IOV phase during which four satellites, as well as their infrastructure, will be vetted. This summer two more IOV satellites will be launched joining the two satellites already in place and bearing the names Natalia and Thijs (see box). This lays the ground for the next phase called IOC – Initial operational capability - due to be completed in 2014 with an initial constellation of 18 satellites providing European citizens and businesses with three innovative navigation services.

Lifeguard for citizens

Whereas the free Open Service is meant for the general public, the encrypted signals of the Public Regulated Service (PRS) will be restricted to the management of critical infrastructures such as ambulance services, the police and border control.

With its Search and Rescue Service Galileo will contribute to the Cospas-Sarsat’s MEOSAR project.  Due to a feature unique to Galileo, beacons aboard ships or planes could receive a confirmation message after having sent a distress signal.

By 2020, the initial constellation will have been supplemented by another twelve and providing two additional services: the fee-based high precision Commercial Service as well as the Safety-of-Life Service for use in aviation.

The sky is the limit

The economic impact of Europe’s own GNSS will be enormous. According to various independent studies, the system will bring the EU-economy about 90 billion euros within the first 20 years of operation.

Marina Martinez of the Spanish Office of Science and Technology highlighted the programme’s potential of "creating jobs and business for companies of different sizes, as well as spin-offs into other sectors and areas." Profiting from increased accuracy, commuters and hauliers will benefit significantly in the transport sector.

For Gard Ueland, President of the non-profit organisation Galileo Services, the EU has to meet one requirement in order to exploit Galileo’s full economic potential: “Galileo is a fantastic opportunity for growth in Europe and the key to releasing this potential is to proactively develop the downstream GNSS applications industry.”

Thanks to high revenues and the provision of significant services (page 3), the possibilities are endless and there is no doubt that only the sky is the limit.

Galileo, inspiring children

To create a bond with the Galileo programme and to stimulate children's interest in the field of space activities, the Galileo children’s drawing competition was organised by the European Commission in all 27 Member States. Children born in 2000, 2001 or 2002 could participate by submitting a piece of artwork on the theme of “Space and Aeronautics”.

In each Member State a jury selected a winner, whose name the Galileo satellites will bear. The competition started in Belgium and Bulgaria, and therefore the first two satellites launched in October 2011 bore the first names of the respective winners - Thijs Paeleman and Natalia Nikolaeva.

In Slovenia a jury named ten-year old Tara Keber as the overall winner of the competition, while in Cyprus Adrianna Yiallourou was victorious. Eleven-year old Milena Kaznatsejeva won the contest in Estonia, while Tijmen van Kraaij’s picture convinced the Dutch jury.

A satellite named after Anastasia Panagiotakopoulou will represent Greece in orbit. Doresa Demaj is responsible for the German contribution to the satellite naming. By the end of March, all the winners of the remaining EU Member States will have been announced.