GMV wins 250 million euro ground control contract for Europe’s Galileo navigation system

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BERLIN — Spanish company GMV won a 250 million euro ($290 million) contract last month to maintain and upgrade the ground control system for Europe’s satellite navigation fleet Galileo over the next three years.

GMV primarily supplies ground control infrastructure for telecommunications satellites and European missions. The company’s contract with the European Space Agency, signed in September, marks the biggest deal for GMV and the biggest for Spain’s space industry.

“There are many services that we have developed around Galileo, particularly in the ground control part, but this is the first time we are taking full responsibility for a system like this one,” Miguel Ángel Molina, GMV’s business development manager for space, told SpaceNews. “This is a big step in our development. I think we are ready to do it. I think that this will be a demonstration of our capability as a country and as a company.”

Galileo is Europe’s answer to global navigation systems like the United States’ GPS. With latest batch of satellites launched in July, there are now 26 satellites in the constellation, though not all are operational. Galileo’s managers have said they expect the system to be fully operational in 2020. GMV’s work will include upgrading the ground control system’s architecture to manage up to 41 Galileo satellites, according to a statement from ESA.

“The intention is to monitor and control the constellation, and to evaluate the safety of the satellites at any moment, to ensure that they are in the right place and in good health,” Molina said. GMV will also organize necessary upgrades of the whole system, including cybersecurity measures. The Galileo Control Segment that GMV is managing is separate from the Galileo Mission Segment, which is responsible for the fleet’s navigation services.

The main control centers are located in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, and Fucino, Italy, where GMV will have teams of about 20 people, Molina said. There is also a network of ground stations around the world at sites such as Kiruna, Sweden; Kourou, French Guiana; and Papeete, French Polynesia. Molina said much of the staff working on the project will be located in Madrid, where GMV is based.

The U.K.’s planned exit from the European Union presents some complications for the Galileo mission, since Galileo, while built through ESA is managed by the European Commission. Unless an agreement is reached before Brexit, British firms may no longer be able to participate in developing Galileo and the British government could lose access to Galileo’s classified services. In August, the U.K. Space Agency announced that it was spending more than $100 million to study the possibility of creating its own independent navigation system. Galileo satellite manufacturer OHB System AG of Germany said Oct. 1 it has a “mitigation plan” for Brexit, since its payload supplier Surrey Satellite Technology Limited is a British company, but has declined to give details.

Molina didn’t foresee any major risks to the ground control segment posed by Brexit. He said the stations in the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island, which are U.K. territories, are only connected to the work of the Galileo Mission Segment with which GMV is not involved. And though elements of the ground control infrastructure were created by other companies, such as CGI UK, Molina says GMV won’t have any interaction with those companies as they take over responsibility for the system, unless GMV eventually requests support during a transition period.

He said the ground control system would only need to adjust if Brexit somehow causes the onboard system of the new satellites the change.

“If there is an evolution in the future, this is something we will need to take care of, but for us this is normal,” Molina said. “This has already been the case because the original satellites were developed by Airbus then later OHB, and we needed to adapt our system to work with these new satellites.”