Galileo, the European Global Navigation Satellite System, is currently a work in progress. Carlo des Dorides, Executive Director of the European GNSS Agency (GSA), gives sneak peek into its programmes.
What is the mission of the European GNSS Agency?
We are a regulatory agency whose stakeholders include the 28 Member States of the European Union and the European Commission. The European Commission is in charge of the overall mission, including setting the road map and budget for European space programmes such as EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus. The European Space Agency (ESA) serves as the core engineer of these programmes, having been delegated the responsibilities of system design and development. As these programmes become operational, the GSA is charged with managing their operations and developing their service provision.
What does this mean in practice?
With EGNOS now fully operational, the GSA is focused on what we call the service provision side of the equation, or the development of new system capacities and services. For example, in aviation we are developing a service capacity for more EGNOS-based landings. Services are also being developed across other sectors too — road, maritime, rail, mapping, location-based services and agriculture.
Within this organisational structure, the GSA’s focus, or mission, is the successful exploitation of Europe’s GNSS programmes. This is where the most important paradigm shift from a technology-focused push to a service-orientated pull must occur. With Galileo, as the programme moves from design and development to initial services, the GSA will take up the exploitation role — as we currently have with EGNOS.
In fact, we are already getting ready for a transition to Galileo in 2017. For example, with Galileo we aim to provide a tangible service to European citizen. To do this, GSA is currently engaged in dialogue with users across all sectors, discussing the many benefits of Galileo and listening to their needs.
As GNSS has evolved in the last few years, where do you see the opportunities for providing services?
It is true that over the past five years we have witnessed a tremendous evolution in GNSS applications — to the point that they have become an essential and integrated part of our everyday lives. For example, most of our mobile phones are equipped with GNSS receivers, and in Europe nearly one-third of all new cars come with in-car navigation devices. This alone gives you an idea of the reach and penetration of this technology.
Although GNSS is widely used in road transport and location-based services (LBS) — together these sectors account for more than 90% of the overall value — there are many other sectors benefitting from satellite technology. Maritime, rail, civil aviation, surveying, precision agriculture are to name only a few. Clearly, there are many industries where GNSS can be effectively utilised, and in fact many are already benefiting from GPS and GLONASS. We believe that with the addition of Galileo, these users will benefit from greater efficiency and improved performance — further enhancing the user experience.
In addition to these many public services, is it correct that Galileo will also offer a commercial service?
That is correct. Galileo’s Commercial Service (CS) has the potential to improve the performance of existing location services for all user communities and will be a key element of Galileo’s service provision. More so, it will also help further enhance Galileo’s economic added-value in downstream markets. Specifically, the Galileo Commercial Service will deliver a range of value-added features, including positioning accurate to decimetre level and an authentication feature, both of which allow for the development of innovative applications for professional or commercial use. The Galileo CS demonstrator began its proof of concept earlier this year, and initial service is expected to start in 2016.
Once operational, CS will provide access to two additional encrypted signals on the E6 band, delivering a higher data throughput rate and increased accuracy. CS addresses the authentication and high-precision market segments and will deliver innovative services with improved performance and greater added value than those obtained through the open service.
With GPS modernising and other regions coming up with their own navigation systems, what opportunities do you see for Galileo?
It is true that Galileo is entering an increasingly mature environment. However, we believe Galileo will create a multi-constellation system that will provide better performance, availability and accuracy for the end user. More so, Galileo is designed to be 100% compatible and interoperable with these other systems.
To illustrate the importance of this, we conducted tests to measure the performance of Galileo when used in various combinations with GPS and GLONASS. The results showed that adding Galileo on top of GPS and GLONASS improves the accuracy of location fixes when indoor and in urban canyons. Another point that I believe distinguishes Galileo from
other GNSS programmes is its civil nature whereas programmes like GPS and GLONASS are essentially military projects. This distinction is important as it will allow, for example, the provision of the commercial service and will lead to the opening up of many new market opportunities.
What is the current status of EGNOS and Galileo?
As the precursor to Galileo, EGNOS has been fully operational for over three years and is being heavily utilised, for example, in the civil aviation sector. EGNOS is the world’s second system augmenting the performance of GPS on a regional basis, mainly Europe. It has shown excellent performance, including guaranteeing one metre accuracy — and is capable of establishing integrity communication information within six seconds. Galileo will build from this foundation and take Europe to the next level in space technology. Although it is a complex project, the programme continues to move forward. It is now a matter of deploying the satellites and achieving the final nominal performance with the operation of 30 satellites, which is expected by 2018.
What happens to EGNOS when Galileo becomes operational?
Not only is Galileo designed to coexist with other international GNSS programmes, it is also designed to coexist with EGNOS. Although the two systems’ target markets are different, with EGNOS being a regional system and Galileo a global one, in certain scenarios they will complement and enhance each other.
Do you feel there is enough collaboration between the world’s various air navigation systems?
First, let me point out that although it is true that EGNOS is specifically targeting the civil aviation industry, it is not restricted to it. EGNOS can and will provide an accuracy that traditional navigation systems, regardless as to which sector, simply cannot achieve.
As to cooperation between the different air navigation systems, I can say that we have a very good level of cooperation with GPS. Every six months there are meetings between representatives of the EU and US where specifics are discussed. Because of this intense level of cooperation, we have ensured that EGNOS operates on the same equipment standards used for other GNSS systems, meaning the same aircraft equipped for the US can land in Europe using the EGNOS signal.
According to the GSA’s last annual report, the “rapidly developing and complex GNSS market” already boasts a global installed base of over 2 billion GNSS devices. How do you define this market?
We have experts across Europe analysing numerous variables and predicting the evolution of these markets to reach the figures you quote. As I previously mentioned, the bulk of these devices are found in the LBS and road navigation segments and that is why the GSA continues to focus in these areas. To illustrate, we work closely with receiver manufacturers to help ensure that future chips are indeed Galileo-enabled.
It is important to note that this success in the road transport sector extends beyond vehicle navigation. We are seeing significant interest in road tolling, where GNSS can provide the high level of reliability and flexibility needed to monitor toll roads. This means that in a large city like London, if there is a need to focus on a certain area of the town, it can be done quickly and without a need for a major investment.
Looking into the future, it is foreseen that this market segment will only continue to grow. Powered by a quickly developing intelligent transport system — including the launch of a driverless car — the act of driving will become increasingly dependent on automated GNSS capabilities.
Have you seen a proliferation of companies manufacturing and designing GNSS chipsets?
Our research and experience tells us that the real value of GNSS technology is in the downstream market. The future of the market is not in developing, launching and operating satellites but in what can be done with those satellites here on the ground — the applications and services. Realising this, I see increasing competition happening at the lower end of the value chain, including the manufacturing of chipsets and receivers. This is an area where Europe is losing to the competition coming from the US and Asia. Another area where I see potential, particularly for SMEs, is in the development of applications and services. With EU funding programmes like the current Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, we expect to see Europe evolve into a major player.
As a GNSS expert, what are the challenges to market development that you see?
Although Europe may not have a high market capacity in some areas for manufacturing, I believe it can provide a number of opportunities in terms of applications and services. For this reason, Europe should concentrate its efforts in this direction.
One challenge I see is the need to provide a reliable — or trustable — GNSS signal. As this becomes more and more of a concern, it may present a challenge to GNSS which, by definition, provides a low power signal that is easily jammed. In this sense, GNSS will have to provide new solutions — this is the main challenge facing the sector.
Is there enough push coming from the public sector in support of GNSS projects?
As mentioned, the EU supports GNSS projects through its Framework Programmes for research and development. Under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme’s first call for applications in satellite navigation, €38 million will be going to support GNSS projects. Over the course of the next seven years the total budget for this type of funding will be EUR 140 million — double the amount available during the prior funding programme.
Would it be right to call GNSS the poor cousin of earth observation?
Not at all. Today, Europe has two flagship programmes — Galileo for GNSS and Copernicus for earth observation. The €7 billion budget assigned to Galileo is roughly double of what has been assigned to Copernicus. But comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges as the two systems target different needs, although in the future I see these two worlds coming closer together. For example, precision farming can benefit from the synergies between the two systems — a good understanding of the ground provided by Copernicus coupled with Galileo-enabled accurate positioning can only benefit the farmer.