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Galileo: the challenge of autonomy

  

The European Union's Galileo project for a global navigation satellite system is crucial to European independence and competitiveness.

    
  

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The constellation of GalileoSat satellites will circle the globe from 2008, providing Europe with a positioning and navigational system which is autonomous and interoperable.

In the 1980s, the United States developed the satellite navigation system known as GPS (Global Positioning System), initially for military purposes. Interest in its civil applications grew quickly, and today GPS - replaced, in certain areas, by the Russian GLONASS system, also of military origin - is used for navigation by an increasing number of sailors, aviators, hauliers, taxis and car drivers.

A system made in Europe
"Europe's dependence on these two external, military systems over which it has no control places it at a disadvantage," explains Matthias Ruete, director of the Trans-European Networks for Transport programme. "Their links with defence priorities provide no guarantee of development and dependability for the future. But this future is crucial in determining the development of an integrated European transport sector. Added-value services and equipment linked to the growth of navigation systems could represent a market worth 35 billion euros in the next decade and generate large numbers of skilled jobs."

This is why the European Commission proposed the ambitious Galileo project. This new navigation system for civil transport will be developed industrially with the Union's support and in close cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), which, by 2008, should have sent a constellation of some 24 GalileoSat satellites into medium Earth orbit. The total investment is estimated at 2.7 billion euros.

Green light
Last June the Council of EU Transport Ministers gave the Commission the go-ahead to launch project definition studies. These will be financed by the Fifth Framework Programme, with the aim of completing the Galileo definition phase by the end of 2000.

"Four contracts providing global support of 37 million euros have already been signed with European industry," announces Mr Ruete. The largest - worth 29 million euros - is the GALA programme with more than 70 participants coordinated by Alcatel Space and focusing on the system's architecture and global specifications. The other three concern the definition of the service (GEMINUS), integration with EGNOS (INTEG) - see box - and standardisation (SAGA).

The Commission has also set up the GNSS-2 Forum (bringing together users, government bodies, universities and industry) to analyse the project's legal, institutional, technical, financial and security/defence aspects, as well as user needs, while ESA has embarked on the technical definition of the space component and ground-based systems, to be carried out by a consortium of 50 contractors, led by Alenia Aerospazio. Supervising these tasks will be a committee chaired by the Commission consisting of representatives from the Member States and ESA.

The development phase should start in 2001, partly financed by the EU Trans-European Networks for Transport programme and ESA, and partly by private and public-sector partners. The Commission is at present drawing up the framework conditions for such a partnership and, given the size of the investments, plans to create new sources of revenue, such as specific charges for certain specialised services.

A two-stage advance

The initial GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) phase of Galileo is run by the European Tripartite Group (Commission, ESA and Eurocontrol(1)) and aims to develop and implement the EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) system by 2002. This will use geostationary satellites to increase European coverage. Phase two (GNSS-2) will develop and implement the Galileo satellite navigation system, giving Europe its independence while ensuring continuity, compatibility and interoperability with existing systems.

(1) Eurocontrol is responsible for validating the system's conformity with civil aviation requirements.

See also the previous article on the new European space odyssey

     
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