Europe’s Galileo GNSS goes ‘live’

December 19, 2016 // By Graham Prophet
This week – Thursday 15th December 2016, to be exact, saw Europe’s Global satellite navigation system finally switched on. After 17 years and more than €10 billion euros ($11 billion) later, the Galileo satnav system promises to, “outperform US and Russian systems while boosting regional self-reliance.”

Initial services will be free to use worldwide on smartphones and navigation boxes fitted with Galileo-compatible chips. Some devices – according to The European Commission and galileognss.eu – may only need a software update to start using the new technology, as several smartphone companies were already making chips compatible with it.

 

The official statement says that, “at first the signals might be a little weak” - which appears to refer to the incomplete constellation, meaning that well-positioned satellites will often not be available, rather than RF signals being lower than they might be - “but will be boosted with help from satellites in the US military-run GPS system, and grow stronger over time as orbiters are added”, to the current count of 18.

 

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Galileo should be fully operational by 2020, providing time and positioning data of unprecedented accuracy. Once complete, the system will consist of 24 operational satellites and ground infrastructure for the provision of positioning, navigation and timing services.

 

The view of the Commission is that as a civil-controlled service it is also of great strategic importance for Europe, which [now] relies on two military-run services – GPS and Russia’s GLONASS. “Both these systems provide no guarantee of uninterrupted service. Galileo will be interoperable with these, but also completely autonomous.”

 

The project was first approved with an initial budget of around €3billion and was initially planned to be operational by 2008. But it suffered several technical and budgetary setbacks, including the launch of two satellites into the wrong orbit in 2014.

 

The system’s enahnced accuracy is the result of some of the most accurate atomic clocks ever to be used for a navigation system. There is one atomic clock in each satellite that is accurate to one second in three million years. A billionth-of-a-second clock error in a navigation system can result in a positioning error of