Galileo Plods On - Inside GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems Engineering, Policy, and Design

Galileo Plods On

Europe’s Galileo program continues to take small steps as it waits to see if it can get through an impasse between the European Commission (EC) and the consortium of companies seeking a concession to complete and operate the Galileo system.

Europe’s Galileo program continues to take small steps as it waits to see if it can get through an impasse between the European Commission (EC) and the consortium of companies seeking a concession to complete and operate the Galileo system.

At its March 22 meeting, the European Council of Transport Ministers gave the consortium until May 10 “to ensure the conditions for the resumption of negotiations with the GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA).” Failure to incorporate a Galileo Operating Company (GOC) and appoint a chief executive officer had led to a breakdown in the talks between the would-be public and private partners in the Galileo program.

According to industry representatives, a shareholder agreement has been reached among the eight consortium members effective the week of March 25, but neither a budget nor a CEO has been approved yet.

Reportedly, the consortium had identified a CEO candidate during a six-month search and negotiation process. However, the two months’ delay in incorporation of a GOC since an agreement was reached with the candidate may result in his not taking up the position.

In the meantime, Jean-François Bou, Galileo Program Director for France’s Thales Group, will continue as acting CEO of the concession consortium/GOC, a role that he assumed in June 2006.

Thales Acquisitions.

EC approval in early April of Thales bid to acquire Alcatel’s 67 percent stake in Alcatel Alenia Space (AAS) and its 33 percent share of Italy’s Telespazio may help simplify the complex industry relationships that have complicated work on Galileo.

Three Thales subsidiaries, AAS, and Telespazio’s parent company, Finmeccanica SpA of Italy are partners with EADS Astrium GmbH of Germany, the UKs EADS Astrium Ltd., Galileo Sistemas y Servicios of Spain (a consortium of seven Spanish companies) in the European Satellite Navigation Industries (ESNI) consortium. ESNI has a €1 billion–plus contract to the Galileo ground infrastructure and the first four in-orbit validation satellites.

Acquisition of Alcatel’s shares of AAS and Telespazio, together with its current 19 percent share in ESNI and its voting share in Alcatel Corporation, would give Thales a controlling share of ESNI and probably a larger voice in the concession consortium.

Meanwhile, the GSA Administrative Board has agreed on an “Intention To Proceed” (ITP) to adopt a multiplex binary offset carrier (MBOC) signal for the Galileo Open Service (OS). MBOC is a further refinement of the BOC(1,1) signal that the United States and European Union (EU) had agreed would serve as the common signal waveform for the most commonly used civil signals at the L1 frequency.

The ITP, however, is only the first step of the process for a final decision on the long-awaited common signal structure, which needs to be finalized before receiver manufacturers can design new equipment incorporating the GPS and Galileo signals. Several more official steps, legal checks, and agreements must take place before the GSA can render the definitive “Decision To Proceed.”

Ultimatum from the Top

The transport council took up the Galileo program at its March 22 meeting, following a pointed letter to the consortium from Jacques Barrot, the council’s president and vice-president of the EC, which is leading public participation in Galileo.

In it the council said it “expects substantial progress to be achieved in the negotiations, so that . . . the Council has adequate assurance that the concession negotiations are going ahead successfully, in particular on the basis of a credible roadmap to come to contractual conclusions as soon as possible.”

The council pointed to its June 7–8 meeting as a deadline for receiving the EC’s assessment of the overall progress of the Galileo program, including the outstanding issues raised by the consortium in its response to Barrot as well as the project cost and financing.

Also for the June meeting, the EC was asked to submit possible solutions for securing Galileo’s long-term public financial obligations, including a scenario for the earliest start up of European Geostationary Overlay Service (EGNOS) as a precursor to Galileo. Similar to the U.S. Wide Area Augmentation System or WAAS, EGNOS is designed to provide integrity alerts and differential corrections that will provide real-time positioning accuracy of around two meters.

Currently in pre-operational service, EGNOS will be certified in 2008 for safety-of-life applications such as air traffic control. However, funding for the program is expected to run out by March 2008.

Finally, the transport council asked the EC, assisted by GSA and the European Space Agency, to assess progress in the concession negotiations and to submit alternative scenarios — including assessments of associated costs, risks, and affordability — for the June council meeting.

Copyright 2007 Gibbons Media and Research LLC