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Galileo Project - European independence is the issue

Galileo was conceived as an alternative to the US’s ubiquitous GPS (global positional system). It offered the European Union both a slice of a lucrative commercial market and a sense of sovereignty. It had not gone unnoticed that during the first Gulf War in 1991 the US Department of Defence (DoD) degraded GPS signals received by commercial GPS equipment – Pentagon claims the right to degrade signal traffic for its own strategic benefit. GPS can be switched off over any region the US government chooses, thus leading to a paralysis of civilian and military transportation.

The European Space Agency (ESA) also notes,"Satellite navigation users in Europe today have no alternative other than to take their positions from US GPS or Russian GLONASS satellites. Yet the military operators of both systems give no guarantee to maintain an uninterrupted service.

Update - 7th Jan 2010

"The European Commission announced today the award of three of the six contracts for the procurement of Galileo’s initial operational capability. The contract for the system support services is awarded to ThalesAleniaSpace of Italy , that for a first order of 14 satellites to OHB System AG of Germany and that for the launch services to Arianespace of France. This will allow the initial deployment and service provision of Europe’s satellite navigation system as of early 2014.

Antonio Tajani, European Commission Vice-President in charge of Transport, said: "With this and the upcoming awards for the remaining procurement packages, we are concluding a critical phase of the Galileo programme. We can now focus on the actual roll-out and demonstrate to European citizens that Europe’s own satellite navigation system is firmly underway...The contract with Arianespace covers the launch of five Soyuz launchers, each carrying two satellites. The first launch is scheduled for October 2012. The value of the contract amounts to €397 million."

Europa Press Release, 7th Jan 2010

Satellite positioning has already become the standard way of navigating. If the signals were switched off tomorrow, many ship and aircraft crews would find it inconvenient and difficult to revert to traditional navigation methods. As the use of satellite navigation spreads, the implications of a signal failure will be even greater, jeopardising not only the efficient running of transport systems, but also human safety.

As far back as the early 1990s, the European Union saw the need for Europe to have its own global satellite navigation system. The conclusion to build one was taken in similar spirit to decisions in the 1970s to embark on other well-known European endeavours, such as the Ariane launcher and the Airbus. The European Commission and European Space Agency joined forces to build Galileo, an independent system under civilian control which will be guaranteed to operate at all times, bar the direst emergency".

Update - 27th April 2008

"A demonstrator spacecraft for Europe's proposed Galileo satellite navigation system has launched from Kazakhstan. A demonstrator spacecraft for Europe's proposed Galileo satellite navigation system has launched from Kazakhstan. The Giove-B satellite was taken into space atop a Soyuz rocket which left Earth at 2216 GMT, Saturday [26th April 2008].

The demonstrator will test the key technologies which will eventually be built into the 30 operational platforms that form the Galileo network. These include the atomic clocks which provide the precise timing that underpins all sat-nav applications.

Giove-B - a half-tonne, 2.4x1x1m box assembled by EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space - is the second demonstrator satellite to go into orbit following the launch of Giove-A in 2005. The first mission met international obligations to claim the frequencies Galileo will use to transmit its signals to receivers on the ground. This second mission flies a spacecraft which is, to a large degree, a template for the 30 operational platforms that will follow. A fundamental focus for Giove-B will be the in-orbit behaviour of its passive hydrogen maser clock."

Europe Launches Sat-nav tester - BBC, 27th April 2008

Update - 27th November 2007

"....Galileo came closer to reality after EU states backed a €2.4bn ($3.6bn, £1.7bn) funding deal, reached by diverting unused farm subsidies from this year’s budget and rejigging research and industrial spending.

The decision, reached at a meeting in Brussels late on Friday as part of a broader deal on the EU’s overall budget for 2008, marks an important step for the satellite navigation system after years of political wrangling.

Brussels says Galileo would generate billions of euros in revenue, create thousands of jobs and keep European companies at the technological cutting edge.

However, despite the deal, the scheme is not yet a fait accompli. The European parliament must approve the spending plan and national transport ministers need to agree on a legal basis for Galileo.

Germany was a staunch critic of the plan to use unspent EU budget funds to pay for the project. Instead, it had suggested tapping the European Space Agency, which is not an EU institution, to top up Galileo.

Unused EU cash is usually given back to member states. Germany, along with other net contributors to the EU budget, such as the UK, was wary of creating a precedent to divert the money.

Britain has also strongly questioned the business case for the project, but nevertheless backed Friday’s budget agreement."

Galileo project clears funding hurdle - Sarah Laitner, Financial Times, November 26 2007

Update - 19th November 2007

"Until Galileo becomes operational, Europe is largely reliant on the American GPS and the Russian GLONASS systems...At the Nice European Council of Heads of State and Government in December 2000, it was agreed that the development phase of Galileo, by far the most expensive phase of the programme, should be carried out as a Public Private Partnership (PPP). The process to select a PPP concessionaire culminated in the merger of the final two bidders into the Eurely/iNavSat consortium... According to the European Commission, the PPP negotiations collapsed because the private sector consortium was unwilling to accept the transfer of risk at a cost which was, in turn, acceptable to the Commission. When giving oral evidence to the Committee, the Minister of State for Transport, Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP, supported this view: "The industry was obviously concerned about risk. I think it is also worth remembering that in the US, in China, in Russia, these projects will all be initially funded by government, and in a sense we know that the private sector would never be able by itself to manage a huge great system when we are talking about up to 30 satellites. But the Minister also hinted that the reasons for the collapse of the negotiations may have been somewhat more complex than simply the price attached to risk.

...Clearly, the five-year delay that is now expected has implications for the benefits and value for money of the Galileo programme. Five years is a very long time in a fast-moving industry, and the landscape for GNSS will undoubtedly be quite different in 2013 as compared to 2008, the completion date for Galileo originally anticipated. And it is not only GPS that is changing. Other countries are also entering the market with global or regional systems. For example, the Chinese Beidou-II system is expected to have full global coverage, and both India and Japan are planning their own regional systems. Some commentators suggested that the Chinese system already had the potential to undermine the economic rationale underpinning the Galileo programme, even before the full extent of Galileo delays and cost over-runs had become clear. If such concerns were justified in 2006, they can only be more serious now....

The Galileo project is at a crossroads....It would be entirely unacceptable to proceed with the Galileo project at this stage without fresh, independent and rigorous evaluations of the balance between costs and benefits..."

Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Transport, November 2007

In 2003, Gustav Lindstrom, a research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies noted that “should the GPS system become dysfunctional or turned off, it has been conservatively estimated that the cost to European economies would be between Euros 130 and Euros 500 million per day. As a low probability yet high impact event, this gives added impetus for a European system”[1]. In June 2007 Guardian journalist Wendy Grossman noted that “building Galileo would give Europe back its independence and, in addition, would mean that everyone will have access to a better system”. However she added, “Galileo's original timetable called for its constellation of 30 satellites to be complete and operational by 2011; the first were due to launch next year. However, that schedule now looks iffy….”[2].

Who has thrown the spanner in the works? US’s opposition to Galileo was first expressed through a wrangle over the utilisation of a high quality radio frequency range known as the L1 band (1563-1587 MHz). The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), the international authority with oversight in this area, had agreed to Galileo using a signal in this band, and in a meeting in Istanbul in 2000 decided that overlaps or ‘signal overlays’ would be allowed because there was just not enough bandwidth on the L1 band. The US DoD objected because it intended to use the L1 band for a secure military-purpose signal (designated the ‘M’ code) at some future date. Any civilian use in the L1 spectrum meant that if the US decided to shut it down, then this would also affect its military capabilities. In February 2004 in a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, the U.S. Joint Chiefs said Galileo put U.S. military enhancements to GPS “at risk” [3]. In subsequent talks the EU accepted to change the wave characteristics of its signal in the L1 band – the full implications in terms of signal accuracy are not in the public domain. The likely outcome is that Galileo’s signal range would remain sufficiently vulnerable to degradation through techniques such as interfering with the satellite-borne atomic clocks or jamming (emitting noise at the frequencies used by Galileo). Some EU officials contended that the US intention was to undercut Galileo's accuracy in the name of defending allied security while in fact boosting US business interests.

While France and Italy have hitherto been enthusiastic backers, the British position has been ambivalent. It has released £100 million up to 2006 with a UK company, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, responsible for building the test satellite successfully launched in December 2005 on board a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. It has worked well apart from one problem: signals that were deemed secret and protected – for use by Galileo’s paying customers - were cracked by a team from Cornell University. Loss of private sector confidence has now threatened Galileo’s projected revenue streams.

The British reticence is due to the defence lobby - the nuclear-powered submarine fleet is being converted wholesale to use Tomahawk cruise missiles that rely on GPS. If the UK switched to Galileo and the US closed down L1 traffic, its submarines would be dead in the water. Members of Parliament close to this lobby, such former Green Jackets officer Tobias Ellwood (Conservative, Bournemouth East) , have opposed Galileo stating, “the biggest question that the House must answer is why on Earth we are devoting so much money to the project when there already exists a very decent system run by the Americans”[4].

A satellite-based navigational system is a classic example of dual-use technology. The EU, adamant in denying countries like Iran and Pakistan dual use technology, is ironically at the receiving end and seeing its own flagship project threatened. Until it has this strategic independence, the EU will never have much choice in answering the question, ‘are you with us?’


[1] The Galileo satellite system and its security implications, by Gustav Lindstrom with Giovanni Gasparini, Occasional Papers, April 2003, EU Institute for Security Studies
[2] ‘Will Galileo ever achieve orbit?’, Wendy Grossman, The Guardian, 21st June 2007
[3] ‘Europe’s Global Positioning System’, Christian Bourge
[4] ‘UK presses private Galileo role’, 3rd July 2007

Other reading:

Galileo flies into controversy, Computing, 15th November 2007

‘Galileo satellite's secure codes cracked’, Wendy Grossman, The Guardian, 31st August 2006

Space:UK, June 2006, Issue 16

‘Galileo – a UK industry success story’, Navigation News, Sept-Oct 2004

EU website on the Galileo project


Signal Strife, 14th April 2004

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