Galileo satellites
Europe’s ninth and 10th Galileo satellites are brought together on their launch dispenser in preparation for a planned Sept. 11 launch. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace-Service Optique CSG

PARIS — European suppliers of satellite navigation chipsets, user terminals and related services on Sept. 1 said they risk being overrun by U.S., Chinese and even Russian competitors, all of which benefit from government support that Europe’s Galileo system does not provide.

In a policy document called “Europe Must Succeed in the Global Navigation Market Race,” the 29-company Galileo Services association calls for European governments to establish a strategic plan to support Galileo’s downstream applications or face the prospect that the multibillion-euro Galileo investment will mainly support non-European industry.

“As things stand, in a few years it will be difficult, or nearly impossible, for European industry to survive in the highly competitive GNSS global market,” the association said, referring to global navigation satellite systems. “The window of opportunity for European industry to benefit from the current GNSS market boom will soon be closed.”

The Brussels-based European Commission, which is the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, owns Galileo and its companion European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, or EGNOS. EGNOS is operational. The Galileo constellation, ultimately to include 30 satellites in medium Earth orbit, is now being deployed, with the ninth and 10th satellites scheduled for launch Sept. 10 from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in South America.

Current estimates are that initial Galileo services could be available within two years, with full system deployment by 2020 at the earliest.

That schedule puts Galileo in fourth position, in terms of service start date, after the U.S. GPS, Russian Glonass and Chinese Beidou systems. GPS and Glonass are fully operational worldwide, and China’s service is on track to reach that status ahead of Galileo.

As Vincennes, France-based Galileo Services sees it, each of the three other systems benefits from government backing that stimulates downstream products and services and generates economic growth. Europe does not.

European Commission officials are still weighing possible regulatory incentive schemes that would help European industry without violating the terms of a U.S.-European agreement that neither would erect barriers discriminating against the other’s system.

China and Russia are not signatories to this agreement and are free to make what Galileo Services called “massive” cash injections into their domestic industries to help them prosper.

In the United States, Galileo Services says, military contracts to U.S. manufacturers are easily leveraged to help these same contractors attack the commercial market.

Galileo constellation. Credit: ESA artist's concept
Galileo constellation. Credit: ESA artist’s concept
Galileo constellation. Credit: ESA artist’s concept

In a much-discussed scenario of a few years ago, European companies feared low-priced Chinese positioning, navigation and timing hardware flooding the European market. “Beidou benefits from a matchless internal market demand in China,” Galileo Services says.

With U.S. industry already well established and the GPS system adopted as the global GNSS standard, and Russia mandating the use of Glonass on its territory, that would leave Europe with a spanking new orbital infrastructure financed by European taxpayers without a European industry to benefit aside from satellite and rocket builders.

The Chinese concerns have eased a bit, but Galileo Services says the fact remains that most navigation terminal builders – for automobiles, smartphones and other mass-market consumer gear – need only three GNSS constellations to provide accurate data.

China has faced its own delays in building Beidou, but Chinese authorities have been active in promoting the ground segment as well. “The size and growth of the Chinese industry … [are] particularly worrying,” Galileo Services says.

European governments agreed to build Galileo by portraying it as a way of guaranteeing European GNSS autonomy in the event the United States shut down or degraded GPS access, but also as a way of stimulating what they promised would be tens of thousands of new jobs in Europe.

Galileo Services wants European regulators to agree that autonomy means more than having your own satellite infrastructure and is achieved “only with independent use of Galileo with European-designed and manufactured equipment.”

The association’s proposals include setting up an “assertive” industrial policy that protects Europe-generated intellectual property rights, guaranteeing annual research and development projects with public financing and setting performance milestones to assure European industry by 2025 has a 33 percent share of the global GNSS market.

To facilitate the strategic plan, the association calls for existing GNSS technical standards to be augmented, updated or replaced insofar as they implicitly favor conventional technology or GPS because it was the first to market.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.