Late or Not, Galileo Positioned for a Global Embrace

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PRAGUE — European government officials said their Galileo navigation satellite system appears poised to be adopted by a large, global user community despite its many delays and the fact that it will not be in full service before 2017, if not later.

Addressing the European Space Solutions conference here, officials from Europe and Asia said the recent one-day outage of Russia’s Glonass satellite navigation system and debate about the quality of China’s Beidou satellite signals have reinforced their belief that all future users will want access to at least two navigation constellations, if not more.

That includes the U.S. Department of Defense.

Paul Weissenberg, deputy director-general at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, which has oversight authority over Galileo, said the U.S. government is “eagerly looking forward to getting access to our world-class navigation system.”

Commission officials in the past have said the U.S. government has sent a request for access to Galileo’s Public Regulated Service signal, an encrypted and jam-resistant service reserved for European militaries and government public-security agencies.

The 28-nation European Union has not yet decided whether to grant the U.S. access to the PRS signal despite the fact that many EU nations are members of the NATO alliance and, as such, have access to the GPS military signal, the M-code, which is equivalent to Galileo’s PRS.

Some Galileo backers in Europe have said permitting access to PRS by non-European governments will help spread use of Galileo even if the U.S. GPS, Russian Glonass and Chinese Beidou navigation constellations have already deprived Galileo of any first-mover advantage.

The U.S. Defense Department wants access to Galileo for the same reason — signal diversity and backup — that commercial users want navigation devices capable of capturing satellites from different constellations.

In March testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Douglas L. Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said it was obvious that the Pentagon would seek to broaden its supply of navigation signals beyond GPS.

“[B]y 2020 we anticipate that at least six nations or regional intergovernmental organizations will have fielded independent space navigation systems,” Loverro said, adding the regional Japanese and Indian systems into the count.

“Those constellations will include nearly 140 satellites, with a dizzying number of new signals and services. While it may be possible for an adversary to deny GPS signals through jamming, physical anti-satellite attacks, or a cyber-attack on a ground control network, it is much more difficult to eliminate multiple services at the same time …. To that end, we have begun negotiations with like-minded PNT owner/operators to ensure the United States has that access. We must likewise ensure our equipment is capable of receiving these different signals — just as is already happening in commercial applications.”

Other nations are considered likely to make similar requests of Galileo’s PRS. The decision to place a PRS payload on Galileo was controversial in Europe at the outside, with the British government in particular saying no one would use it and that Britain should not have to pay for it.

European government officials at the time thought Britain’s antagonism to PRS was prompted by U.S. concerns about it.

That is no longer the case as the British government is now expected to be one of the major PRS users in the 28-nation European Union.

The Chinese government was the first to express a desire to use PRS, at a time when China was welcomed into the Galileo partnership as a financial contributor. The European Commission subsequently forced China out of the Galileo industrial landscape when it became clear China was developing a system that would compete with Galileo.

Representatives from several Asian nations that are weighing their position on Galileo — especially nations whose relations with China make them less likely to adopt Beidou, at least for now — said the use of PRS would make Galileo an easier sell in their nations.

For the moment, however, PRS is not approved for use by any government outside the European Union.

Weissenberg said the increased interest in Galileo inside and outside Europe is proof that “it is not a technology project desperately seeking for a user.”