European Space Agency approves Galileo satnav system

By Bob Brewin

Computerworld (U.S. online)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has reached an agreement with its member states and the European Union for the development of the Galileo satellite-based navigation system, which will rival the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). The agreement comes just weeks ahead of an international conference where frequencies for the EU system and power levels for the next generation of GPS satellites will be determined.

The ESA said in a statement that the agreement between its member states clears the way for the formation of the Galileo Joint Undertaking, which will have the task of coordinating the development and deployment of the Galileo system. The member states of the EU are Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland.

“This is a great day for Europe in general and its space community in particular,” ESA Director General Antonio Rodota said in a statement. “Conscious of the economic, industrial and strategic importance of satellite navigation, our member states have reached agreement in the common interest. We are now able to continue with Galileo, a major program from which all citizens will benefit. Galileo is definitely a reality.”

As recently as December 2001, U.S. officials expressed concerns about the European system, saying they feared that it might interfere with the U.S. GPS system, which is used to guide “smart” weapons by the military. Those concerns only recently have been mitigated.

Dominique Detain, an ESA spokesperson in Paris, said Galileo will cost US$3.7 billion. The agency expects to launch the first of 30 satellites (27 active and three spares) in 2006, with the final system completed in 2008.

Since Galileo will transmit its signals within the same 1164- to 1559-MHz frequency band now used by GPS, GPS consultants expect the EU system will lead to development of receivers that can pick up signals from both systems, providing better availability and potentially improved accuracy.

Ken Chamberlain, a land surveyor for the Bureau of Land Management in Portland, Ore., said Galileo would eventually make it easier for users operating in dense tree cover to acquire satellite location signals, since there will be more satellites in use.

Ashok Wadwani, president of Applied Field Data Systems Inc., a GPS consultant in Houston, said the deployment of Galileo will mean that users eventually get a receiver capable of accessing both systems, obtaining a location signal from a mix of as many as five Galileo and five GPS satellites instead of just five GPS satellites today.

Before the ESA can proceed, it must first obtain the rights to the frequencies (1164-1214 MHz, 1260-1300 MHz and 1560-1595 MHz) it needs to operate at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-03) next month in Geneva. The conference is held under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency with more than 180 member states. Among other things, it allocates and manages the radio spectrum on a global basis every four years.

The U.S., in its draft proposals (download PDF) for WRC-03, inserted language that the EU views as potentially threatening to Galileo. That language set specific “Milestone Criteria” for new radio satellite navigation systems, including “clear and binding agreements for the manufacture and procurement of satellites.”

At an EU WRC-03 preparatory conference earlier this year, Joachen Kreher, of the EU transportation and energy directorate, called the U.S. language “too restrictive.”

Joern Tjaden, head of the Galileo interim support office in Brussels, which is operated for the EU by the ESA, said the draft U.S. language is one reason the EU and the ESA plan to launch the first of the Galileo satellites in 2006. By doing so, Tjaden said, the EU can meet the stringent U.S. criteria.

John Alden, spokesperson for a U.S. State Department-led delegation to WRC-03, said the U.S. proposal is designed solely to weed out “paper” satellite systems that are speculative or that could be used to tie up spectrum resources without ever being built. The U.S. has told the Europeans that it considers Galileo a viable future system and that it isn’t trying to impede its development. That acknowledgement marks a decided shift in U.S. policy toward Galileo.

The U.S. also faces its own potential battle at WRC-03 – over the higher power levels it wants to use on its next generation of GPS satellites. Resolution 605 from the 2000 WRC would limit power outputs in frequency bands used by GPS in order to mitigate interference with ground-based navigation systems, such as radar, according to the draft U.S. WRC-03 proposals.

Those limitations were originally viewed as enough to impede the U.S. ability to develop a new generation of GPS satellites with enough power to overcome jamming by an adversary, according to a thesis by Air Force Lt. John Enis, a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force base, near Dayton, Ohio. Enis, who now works at the GPS Joint Program Office in Los Angeles, wrote last March that the proposed power limits “would directly affect the US$1.2 billion GPS modernization” and that the restrictions would “limit the power of GPS signals, and therefore increase the system’s susceptibility to jamming.”

Alden said the U.S. WRC-03 delegation believes it has “successfully” resolved the GPS power limits in discussions with other nations, including EU members. Tjaden said that as a result of “intensive discussions” with other nations, the ESA believes that some but not all of the power issues have been resolved.

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