Today (December 15, 2016) the European Commission (EC), owner of Europe’s GNSS system, Galileo, formally announced the start of Galileo Initial Services, the first step towards full operational capability.
Further launches will continue to build the satellite constellation, which will gradually improve the system performance and availability worldwide.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has overseen the design and deployment of Galileo on behalf of the Commission, with system operations and service provision due to be entrusted to the European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency next year.
“Galileo offering initial services is a major achievement for Europe and a first delivery of our recent Space Strategy,” said European Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (GROWTH). “This is the result of a concerted effort to design and build the most accurate satellite navigation system in the world. It demonstrates the technological excellence of Europe, its know-how, and its commitment to delivering space-based services and applications. No single European country could have done it alone.”
Paul Verhoef, ESA’s Director of the Galileo Program and Navigation-related Activities, added, “Today’s announcement marks the transition from a test system to one that is operational. We are proud to be a partner in the Galileo program. Still, much work remains to be done. The entire constellation needs to be deployed, the ground infrastructure needs to be completed and the overall system needs to be tested and verified. In addition, together with the Commission we have started work on the second generation, and this is likely to be a long but rewarding adventure.”
Galileo is now providing three service types, the availability of which will continue to be improved. “Service definition documents” have been completed for all three.
The Open Service (OS) is a free mass-market service for users with enabled chipsets in, for instance, smartphones and car navigation systems. Fully interoperable with GPS, combined coverage will deliver more accurate and reliable positioning for users.
Galileo’s Public Regulated Service (PRS) is an encrypted, robust service for government-authorised users such as civil protection, fire brigades and the police.
The Search and Rescue (SAR) service is Europe’s contribution to the long-running Cospas–Sarsat international emergency beacon location. With Galileo and other GNSS-based SAR services, the time between someone locating a distress beacon when lost at sea or in the wilderness will be reduced from up to three hours to just 10 minutes, with its location determined to within 5 kilometers, rather than the previous 10 kilometers.
After five years of launches, 18 Galileo satellites are now in orbit, but only 11 will be available for the Open Service and PRS and 12 for SAR services. The most recent four, launched last month, are undergoing testing ahead of joining the constellation next spring. Two satellites are in incorrect orbits due to a 2014 launch anomaly, although the ESA engineers subsequently regained control of the spacecraft and were able to improve the orbits. As a result, one of those satellites can be used for the SAR service. Another spacecraft is currently out of service.
With the declaration of Initial Services Galileo will deliver, in conjunction with GPS, the following capabilities free of charge:
Support to emergency operations: Today it can take hours to detect a person lost at sea or in the mountains. With the Search and Rescue Service (SAR), people placing a distress call from a Galileo-enabled beacon can now be found and rescued more quickly, since the detection time will be reduced to only 10 minutes. This service should be later improved by notifying the sender of the emergency call that he/she has been located and help is underway.
More accurate navigation for citizens: The Galileo Open Service will offer a free mass-market service for positioning, navigation and timing that can be used by Galileo-enabled chipsets in smartphones or in car navigation systems. A number of such smartphones have been on the market since autumn 2016 and they can now use the signals to provide more accurate positions.
By 2018, Galileo will also be found in every new model of vehicle sold in Europe, providing enhanced navigation services to a range of devices as well as enabling the eCall emergency response system <https://www.insidegnss.com/node/4720>. People using navigation devices in cities, where satellite signals can often be blocked by tall buildings, will particularly benefit from the increase in positioning accuracy provided by Galileo.
Better time synchronization for critical infrastructures: Galileo will, through its high precision clocks, enable more resilient time synchronization of banking and financial transactions, telecommunications and energy distribution networks such as smart-grids. This will help them operate more efficiently.
Secure services for public authorities: Galileo will also support public authorities such as civil protection services, humanitarian aid services, customs officers and the police through the Public Regulated Service. It will offer a particularly robust and fully encrypted service for government users during national emergencies or crisis situations, such as terrorist attacks, to ensure continuity of services.
More Yet to Come
The declaration of Galileo Initial Services means that the Galileo satellites and ground infrastructure are now operationally ready. However, because the satellite constellation not complete, stand-alone positioning using only Galileo signals will not available all the time. That’s why, during the initial phase, the first Galileo signals will be used in combination with other satellite navigation systems, such as the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).
The full Galileo constellation will consist of 24 satellites plus orbital spares, intended to prevent any interruption in service.
ESA Director general Jan Woerner noted, “For ESA, this is a very important moment in the program. We know that the performance of the system is excellent. The announcement of Initial Services is the recognition that the effort, time, and money invested by ESA and the Commission has succeeded, that the work of our engineers and other staff has paid off, that European industry can be proud of having delivered this fantastic system.”
In the coming years, new satellites will be launched to enlarge the Galileo constellation, which will gradually improve Galileo availability worldwide. The constellation is expected to be complete by 2020 when Galileo will reach full operational capacity.
The European GNSS Agency (GSA) will manage Galileo Initial Services on behalf of the EC, which runs the overall Galileo program. GSA signed a services contract today with SpaceOpal to handle day-to-day operations of Galileo. The EC has handed over the responsibility for deployment of the system and technical support to operational tasks to ESA.
In a congratulatory media announcement today, NovAtel President and CEO Michael Ritter stated, “Today’s declaration of the availability of the first three Galileo services — the Open Service, Public Regulated Service, and Search and Rescue Service — confirms the stalwart and persevering leadership that this trio of agencies has provided over the years of the system’s development. It also validates the confidence of the program’s supporters that Europe would join the world’s operators of global navigation satellite systems.”
NovAtel‘s high precision GNSS receivers, antennas, and certified ground-reference station receivers have supported Galileo signals in anticipation of the complete constellation. Moreover, NovAtel is now broadcasting Galileo Precise Point Positioning (PPP) corrections through its TerraStar correction services.