Artist's concept of Galileo satellites in formation. Credit: OHB

PARIS — The successful Dec. 17 launch of two Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites makes it all but certain that the Galileo network will offer initial services by late 2016, including the encrypted, government-only Public Regulated Service (PRS), to which the United States and Norway have requested access.

Both governments have submitted formal requests for PRS access to the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union. It appears that years of inaction may end in 2016.

The U.S. and Norwegian requests have remained dead letters at the commission not because they are controversial, but because sorting out access to PRS even among the 28 EU nations has been complicated.

EU officials have been grappling with what are called Common Minimum Standards that set rules on PRS access for national government agencies and PRS hardware manufacturers, with a view of ensuring the encrypted signal is not compromised.

The diversity of EU nations’ security precautions is wide enough that the commission, with the approval of EU governments, has reserved the right to conduct inspections of agencies and companies working with PRS to verify compliance. Each nation using PRS will create a specialized agency responsible for its use.

The sensitivity of the subject is high enough that the EU has decided not to publish the Common Minimum Standards supporting documents — including technical details on required security measures and PRS distribution — in the EU’s Official Journal.

The standards were nonetheless approved in November.

The next step on the road to granting U.S. and Norwegian access is for the EU’s highest decision-making body, the European Council, to give the commission marching orders for opening negotiations with U.S. and Norwegian authorities.

“Before we have this mandate we cannot talk with the Americans about PRS, nor can we talk with Norway,” said Paul Flament, a Galileo program manager at the commission’s DG Growth directorate.

A Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket launches the 11th and 12th Galileo satellites from Europe’s Guiana Space Center. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG/S. Martin
A Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket launches the 11th and 12th Galileo satellites from Europe’s Guiana Space Center. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG/S. Martin

In a Dec. 16 briefing, Flament said council’s approval of PRS operating standards for EU nations came with a statement encouraging early negotiations with the two non-EU nations that seek PRS access.

The statement reads, in part:

“[T]he PRS is restricted to government-authorized users for specific applications that require a high level of service continuity. The European Union has provided for the possibility for certain third countries and international organizations to become PRS participants through specific agreements concluded with them.

“In this respect, the Council believes that the Norwegian and U.S. requests for access to the PRS service should be addressed promptly, and therefore supports the rapid, simultaneous opening of negotiations as soon as the two relevant mandates have been adopted by the Council.

“The Council calls for these agreements to allow Norway, a closely associated European partner hosting important Galileo ground infrastructure; and the United States, operating the Navstar GPS, to access the PRS service, and underlines the importance of establishing a fruitful bilateral cooperation. Furthermore, the cooperation with the U.S. should seek to promote optimal interoperability of Galileo and GPS, taking into account financial and operational constraints.”

The Netherlands assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the EU in January. Flament said Dutch authorities have proposed “a very aggressive calendar for discussing the mandate for PRS access by the U.S. and Norway. So hopefully the mandate will be given in the first half of 2016. That will allow us to enter into official negotiations with the Americans and with Norway around mid-2016.”

Like the U.S. GPS military code, PRS uses different radio frequencies to broadcast its encrypted, jam-resistant signals. Both services are designed to remain functional even if an adversary jams all other GPS and Galileo transmissions.

An early attempt in Europe to have PRS use the same frequencies as those used by the GPS military code was strongly opposed by the U.S. government, which threatened to end all GPS-Galileo compatibility and interoperability talks unless the EU placed PRS elsewhere.

Navigation frequencies occupy a fairly small neighborhood on the radio spectrum. The EU ultimately relocated PRS, only to contend later with the Chinese government, which wanted its Beidou navigation system’s government-only code to use the same spectrum as PRS.

International radio frequency regulators have no problem with signal overlay of this type because it does not result in signal interference. Military planners have a problem because overlay means not being able to jam another network without jamming your own.

U.S. defense officials have said that with PRS now operating in different frequencies than the GPS military code, its value to the United States has increased. With PRS access, U.S. military procurement planners could integrate PRS and GPS military code chips into their hardware, further increasing jam resistance.

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