Europe’s Galileo GNSS goes ‘live’

Europe’s Galileo GNSS goes ‘live’

Technology News |
By Jean-Pierre Joosting

Initial services will be free to use worldwide on smartphones and navigation boxes fitted with Galileo-compatible chips. Some devices – according to The European Commission and – may only need a software update to start using the new technology, as several smartphone companies were already making chips compatible with it.

The official statement says that, “at first the signals might be a little weak” – which appears to refer to the incomplete constellation, meaning that well-positioned satellites will often not be available, rather than RF signals being lower than they might be – “but will be boosted with help from satellites in the US military-run GPS system, and grow stronger over time as orbiters are added”, to the current count of 18.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Galileo should be fully operational by 2020, providing time and positioning data of unprecedented accuracy. Once complete, the system will consist of 24 operational satellites and ground infrastructure for the provision of positioning, navigation and timing services.

The view of the Commission is that as a civil-controlled service it is also of great strategic importance for Europe, which [now] relies on two military-run services – GPS and Russia’s GLONASS. “Both these systems provide no guarantee of uninterrupted service. Galileo will be interoperable with these, but also completely autonomous.”

The project was first approved with an initial budget of around €3billion and was initially planned to be operational by 2008. But it suffered several technical and budgetary setbacks, including the launch of two satellites into the wrong orbit in 2014.

The system’s enahnced accuracy is the result of some of the most accurate atomic clocks ever to be used for a navigation system. There is one atomic clock in each satellite that is accurate to one second in three million years. A billionth-of-a-second clock error in a navigation system can result in a positioning error of up to 30cm.

Galileo also has [will have] more satellites than either GPS or GLONASS, with better signals that carry more information. With these features, Galileo’s free Open Service will be able to track positions to within 1m, compared to several metres for GPS and GLONASS. Its signal will eventually reach areas where which have not been possible so far i.e. inside traffic tunnels and in ‘urban canyons’. A subscription service will allow clients to track locations even closer, to within centimetres, and governments will have access to an encrypted continued service for use in times of crisis.

The European Commission expects the project to be an important commercial venture as almost 10% of Europe’s gross domestic product is thought to depend, indirectly, on satellite navigation today – a figure which is projected to grow to about 30% by 2030. The European Comission expects the global satnav market be valued at about $244 billion by 2020, and that Galileo itself will add around $90 billion to the EU economy in its first 20 years.

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