GSA Executive Director Rodrigo da Costa speaks to Inside GNSS about the transition into a new European Space Program Agency, EUSPA, and the new responsibilities that will bring to his staff.
In 2021 the European Parliament and Council will approve a new European Union (EU) Space Regulation to, among other things, establish a new governance arrangement for the EU space programs. This will encompass a new EU Space Program Agency (EUSPA) built upon the foundation that is now the European GNSS Agency (GSA). Rodrigo da Costa, new GSA Executive Director, spoke to Inside GNSS about these major changes and other matters ahead. His career spans over 20 years in the space sector, primarily with Airbus.
“We are hoping to have the formal endorsement of the new Space Regulation in the course of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of 2021,” said da Costa. “This will involve the transformation, the evolution of what is the GSA today. We will continue with provision of Galileo and EGNOS services, and all the work that has been done in the past by the GSA, such as market development and market uptake. But there will be new tasks, including management of Galileo and EGNOS exploitation, and we will be responsible for the coordination of the user activities for GOVSATCOM, the secure Governmental Satellite Communication program, and we will undertake the development and promotion of the commercial downstream activities of Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation program.”
As a single agency overseeing all of the EU’s space programs, the EUSPA will be in a better position to explore and develop potential synergies between them, for example between the earth observation activities of Copernicus and the positioning services of Galileo. “In this way we can aim at a broader, deeper and more valuable utilization of these assets,” da Costa said.
There will also be new responsibilities in terms of security accreditation. The GSA is currently responsible for GNSS-related security accreditation through the relevant accreditation board. The EUSPA will have similar responsibilities for all EU space programs.
“The Galileo service was affected by an anomaly on the night of 13-14 December, 2020,” da Costa said. “This anomaly was in the time determination function, as part of the very complex ground segment that we have in place for Galileo. This resulted in the signals not containing the usual high-quality information, but, as they should be in such events, the signals were properly flagged as marginal. The system was reconfigured and restored a few hours later. On what concerns the incident itself, this is still under detailed investigation. As soon as we have results, we will communicate them.”
Da Costa insisted on the importance of implementing the SIS ICD properly. “The signals were properly flagged,” he repeated. “For all the receivers that are implementing the SIS ICD in the correct manner – the flags are broadcast by the signal in space – and they were protected against any type of ranging imprecision. As always, we are ready to support and work with the receiver manufacturers, to make sure that the Galileo SIS ICD is properly implemented.”
He reminded users that the Galileo Service Centre website is the principal interface means between Galileo and said users. “We published a NAGU [Notice Advisory to Galileo Users] shortly after the December anomaly on the Service Centre. We publish important news and information there several times a month, and we will publish any further process information and updates there.”
Another enormous challenge faced by the GSA over virtually the entirety of 2020 was of course the COVID pandemic. Among the GSA’s first priorities, da Costa said, was the health and safety of its staff, but as an operational agency, he said, “Our top priority was to ensure the continuation of the 24/7 operations and the robustness of our operational set-up. We had the necessary contingency plans ready as part of all the preparatory activities and we executed them.”
New Galileo services will be launched under da Costa’s leadership. He said the OSNMA message authentication service will be ready for public testing soon. Inside GNSS reported in November 2020 that some Galileo users had already picked up the OSNMA signal and were trying it out. “Obviously we are kicking off the necessary preparatory and verification actions,” da Costa told us, “to make sure that the public testing phase can start properly, and this is eventually what has been seen by users. We have made significant technical developments in the past year and are very much looking forward to the public testing phase.”
The EUSPA will also move forward with the high accuracy (HA) service, which da Costa said has shown very interesting performance under testing. Further services still to be unveiled include the highly anticipated PRS, the secured, encrypted service for government use.
In the wake of Brexit, which he described as “an unfortunate event”, da Costa said that the EUSPA would work with the UK, as it would with any non-EU third country, provided the necessary political agreements are in place: “Yes, I will be very glad to work with the UK.”
The future is promising, da Costa said. “The GNSS market is growing, and we are here to ensure the downstream market and growth of the European share of that market. Please stayed tuned. A lot is happening, from service provision to market uptake, and the development of new synergies with Copernicus.”