Europe, China Remain at Odds over Navigation Systems

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MUNICH, Germany — China and Europe “have made no concrete progress” in negotiating how to harmonize their planned satellite navigation systems despite two years of effort, setting up a conflict as each tries to protect its ability to jam the other’s military frequencies in a time of war without jamming its own, Chinese and European officials said March 5.

The lack of progress will not slow China’s plans to launch 10 Chinese Long March 3 rockets carrying navigation satellites in the next 20 months, including three this year, a development that threatens to render impossible any future collaboration with Europe on satellite navigation, officials said.

In a candid admission that talks with Europe have gone nowhere, Yin Jun, director of European affairs in China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, said both sides have agreed to meet again in June but that “we have made no concrete progress” in resolving technical issues.

Addressing the Munich Satellite Navigation Summit here March 5, Yin said: “We have tried, and we are maintaining contacts [with the European Union]. We hope for results at our next meeting in June.” He said part of the reason for the lack of results so far is that Chinese technical teams have been so busy pressing forward with China’s Compass/Beidou system that they have had little time to focus on negotiating satellite-frequency issues with Europe.

The thorniest topics confronting European and Chinese negotiators are similar to those that threatened to scuttle collaboration between the U.S. GPS navigation system and Europe’s Galileo constellation, now in development.

The United States and the 27-nation European Union reached a compromise on how GPS and Galileo will operate in June 2004 and now say both systems are cooperating for mutual benefit. But that hard-won agreement may face difficulties as a result of the Euro-Chinese impasse, according to U.S. and European government officials.

As it was in the U.S.-European negotiations, China and Europe are each trying to preserve their freedom of movement in the event of a future conflict that requires one of them to jam all navigation signals in a given zone of conflict — except its own encrypted, protected government-only signal. Europe calls this the Public Regulated Service (PRS), and the military is the largest future market for it. China refers to its protected code as an “Authorized Service” to be used in what Chinese officials refer to as “complex situations.”

If the Galileo PRS and China’s Authorized Service occupy overlapping sections of the radio spectrum, both can operate safely. But that would mean that neither could jam the other’s service without jamming its own signals.

Because normal operations of the two signals will not cause interference, the dispute does not involve international frequency regulators at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Both sides are operating within the bounds of the frequencies allocated to them, and both have launched satellites into medium Earth orbit to meet ITU deadlines — Europe in December 2005, China in April 2007.

The task would be difficult under any circumstances because the amount of spectrum allocated to navigation systems is limited, making it difficult for any of the four providers of global navigation constellations — the United States and Russia in addition to China and Europe — to set up camp for its government-military frequency without overlapping someone else. It took the United States and Europe several years of occasionally bitter talks to reach their compromise.

Under current plans, China’s Compass/Beidou system is closer to deployment than Europe’s Galileo service. Four Galileo validation satellites are scheduled for launch in 2010-2011, with the remaining 26 satellites, including spares, to be launched starting around 2014. Guifei Jing, project manager for the National Remote Sensing Center of China, said March 4 that China’s regional Compass/Beidou service will be operational in 2011, with full global service scheduled for 2015. He said the project is a high priority in China and will not be slowed to await a conclusion of talks with the European Union.

European Union and European Space Agency officials plan to select a contractor for 26 Galileo satellites late this year.

Paul Verhoef, head of the Galileo unit at the European Commission, said March 5 that Europe has presented technical solutions to China and is awaiting a response. He declined to specify what the proposals include, and also declined to say what Europe’s plan of action will be if China goes forward with its 2009-2010 launches as planned without waiting for a resolution of the issues with Europe.

Javier Benedicto, head of the Galileo project office at the European Space Agency, said March 4 that the selection of prime contractor for the Galileo system will call for satellites to be built in three tranches separated by about two years. He said that would leave time for a modification of the PRS service if, given the fact of Compass/Beidou’s presence in orbit, Galileo managers viewed that as necessary.

U.S. officials are watching the Euro-Chinese talks carefully. If Europe is forced to accept China’s overlap of Galileo’s PRS service, European officials may be tempted to move PRS to another frequency. But doing so will be difficult and would almost certainly require a re-opening of the U.S.-European agreement reached in 2004, ,according to Michael E. Shaw, director of the U.S. National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Office.