Why does Europe need Galileo?

Europe is unique in that it is the only region developing a civil-based GNSS initiative. Whereas the United States’ GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and China’s Beidou systems – among others – are all operated by their respective militaries, Europe’s Galileo programme stands alone as the world’s only option for GNSS under civil control.

This is an important distinction, especially as the world’s dependence on GNSS continues to increase. From individuals to private businesses, the public sector and academia, as more and more services become dependent on the availability of an accurate GNSS signal, the implications of a possible signal failure becomes increasingly dangerous.

With some foresight, 20 years ago the EU recognised the need for a European-controlled satellite navigation system. Today, Europe is less than five years away from achieving what it set out to do: to operate a European built and European run civil GNSS system dedicated to generating benefits for European businesses, European citizens and the European Union.

For example, estimates suggest that 6 to 7% of the EU’s GDP depends on satellite navigation applications, including critical sectors such as energy, telecommunications and financial services. Therefore, if satellite navigation services in Europe were to be disrupted for even just a few days, the large scale economic losses would exceed the cost of Galileo’s development phase. Moreover, the availability of the current system in densely populated urban areas is poor and there is no guarantee of continuity in service to European civilian users under current arrangements. 

The EU developed Galileo as a follow-up and extension to EGNOS (Europe’s SBAS), both as a strategic response to these threats and as the EU's contribution to global positioning, velocity and timing systems. The development of EGNOS and Galileo, along with other independent systems, will reduce these vulnerabilities and help guarantee continuous services in a rapidly growing GNSS market.


Who's involved in Galileo?

Galileo is a joint initiative of the European Commission (EC), the European GNSS Agency (GSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Specifically, the GSA serves as Europe’s link between space technology and user needs. Although much of the attention goes to high-profile satellite launches, in the end Galileo is about much more than designing, manufacturing and launching satellites. The ultimate objective is to translate Galileo’s signals into valuable, reliable services for European citizens – which is the job of the GSA.

The GSA has been delegated the responsibility for the Galileo service provision by the European Commission. Within this role, the Agency is tasked with ensuring that the end user remains at the centre of Galileo. To accomplish this, the GSA is in constant dialogue with user communities, industry and stakeholders via a wide range of activities. For example, the GSA is working closely with chipset and receiver manufacturers to ensure all products are Galileo-capable and ready for Galileo’s deployment. In addition to receiver manufacturers, the Agency is also working with the major user communities, such as maritime and rail stakeholders, so they can update their systems and be ready to use Galileo.

In addition, R&D funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 for Galileo applications are important tools for reaching this level of readiness. The Agency continues to support numerous GNSS projects via not only Horizon 2020, but also its Fundamental Elements initiative, which dedicates approximately EUR 100 million to R&D aimed at advancing European GNSS chipset and receiver technologies.

Clearly, overseeing the Galileo service provision is no simple task. Other systems are already operational, with GPS being the de facto standard. However, the GSA is committed to making Galileo the world’s second GNSS reference system by 2020. To accomplish this, the Agency will lean heavily on its strong track record and experience from its work with EGNOS, where it has been responsible for the programme’s service provision for the past two years. During this time, the GSA supported the uptake of EGNOS to benefit a wide range of users.

In addition to this service provision, the GSA ensures that Europe’s GNSS signals are secure. The Security Accreditation Board (SAB), an independent body hosted by the GSA, ensures and enables the robustness and resilience of both Galileo and EGNOS and all the services they offer. Furthermore, the Galileo Security Monitoring Centre (GSMC) is an integral part of the Galileo infrastructure and is charged with monitoring and taking action regarding security threats, managing PRS access and providing PRS and Galileo security expertise and analysis, among other tasks. The GSA also oversees the European GNSS Service Centre (GSC), which serves as the single interface between the Galileo system and the users of the Galileo Open Service and Galileo Commercial Service.  In addition, the GSA oversees the Galileo Service Operator, who is responsible for ensuring that the programme complies with the Galileo Services performance requirements, and operating the Galileo Reference Centre (GRC), a Galileo Service Facility dedicated to supporting the provision of services to the Galileo Core System and the Galileo users.


When will I be able to use Galileo?

The Galileo programme is currently in the deployment phase. The exploitation phase, however, is expected to commence in the second half of 2016 with the declaration of Galileo Initial Services. At this time, some Galileo services will be available for use. Galileo satellites will continue to be added to the system, with each additional satellite allowing for the provision of additional Galileo services. A fully operational system will be available in 2020.


Why does it take so long to deploy?

Galileo is a highly complex system, comprised of different services to be provided on a global basis and requiring a widespread network of ground systems and a large constellation of satellites capable of transmitting in different frequency bands. In addition, a completely new governance scheme had to be created, as well as a complex framework contract that maximises social benefits whilst securing private sector interests. Although this is a long process and one that has suffered from delays caused for a variety of reasons, the programme is currently on track.

In addition, Galileo requires critical technology that must be validated via proper prototyping and verification phases. Galileo has facilitated the involvement of European industry in the development of technologies and applications that make use of the system’s very accurate position and time determination. For example, two on board atomic clocks were developed for Galileo: a Rubidium Atomic Frequency Standard and a Passive Hydrogen Maser. These clocks are the first of their kind to be developed and built in Europe, with the passive hydrogen master clock being the first of its type to fly.

In parallel to this work, a system for generating navigation signals also had to be developed, with a navigation signal generator, a navigation antenna and associated equipment. 


How many satellites will Galileo have?

The first two operational Galileo satellites were launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana in October 2011. Once the In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase was completed, the remaining satellites will be placed in orbit at regular intervals to reach Full Operational Capability (FOC). More information, under Programme section.

The complete Galileo constellation will be comprised of satellites spread evenly around three orbital planes inclined at an angle of 56 degrees to the equator. Each satellite will take about 14 hours to orbit the Earth. One satellite in each plane will be a spare, on stand-by should any operational satellite fail.

From most locations, six to eight satellites will always be visible, allowing positions and timing to be determined very accurately to within a few centimetres. Interoperability with the US system of GPS satellites will only increase the reliability of Galileo services.


Are there multi-constellation receivers capable of using GPS, Galileo, GLONASS and others?

According to a recent GSA-supported study, chipset and receiver manufacturers are already equipping their devices with multi-constellation capabilities, including Galileo, and taking advantage of available services. In fact, almost 60% of all available receivers, chipset and modules support a minimum of two constellations. Of these, nearly 40% are Galileo compatible – a figure that is increasing every day. Furthermore, knowing that the top three providers of smartphone chips are on track to be Galileo compatible by the time Initial Services are declared, the actual market share is likely to be much higher than the suggested 40%. All of this clearly shows that a multi-constellation capability that includes Galileo is becoming a standard feature across all market segments.

To further increase the level of Galileo integration, the GSA continues to work directly with chipset and receiver manufacturers. Through technology workshops, sharing Galileo updates, co-marketing efforts, and dedicated funding for receiver development projects and studies, the GSA is working with manufacturers to build an even better navigation experience.

The GSA also launched its Fundamental Elements programme, a new research and development (R&D) funding mechanism supporting the development of chipsets and receivers. The programme will run through 2020 and has a projected budget of EUR 100 million. The main objective of the initiative is to facilitate the development of applications across different sectors of the economy and promote the development of such fundamental elements as Galileo-enabled chipsets and receivers. 


Who can use the Galileo Commercial Service (CS)?

The Galileo Commercial Service is dedicated to high precision applications and will provide the first ever GNSS spreading code encryption for purely civil purposes. The use of the CS will be subject to contractual agreements between the system operator and the final users.

The GSA is in the process of defining and planning a full set of uptake activities to ensure end users maximise their benefits from the Galileo Commercial Service. For example, the GSA established an interest group with potential service providers, and is developing a business plan. The GSA is also engaging with key potential user communities, including agriculture, surveying, energy distribution, and timing and synchronisation.  In addition, the GSA is actively participating in the definition of the Galileo Commercial Service. This includes the follow-up of the core infrastructure changes needed for the Galileo Commercial Service provision, and participation in Commercial Service definition studies, such as the definition of the Commercial Service key management processes. The GSA is also planning future Commercial Service experimentation making use of the CS Demonstrator.


Can you use satellite navigation indoors?

Recent tests conducted by Rx Networks and the GSA confirm that Galileo provides real added value to citizens using Location Based Services (LBS). When used in addition to GPS and/or GLONASS, Galileo proved to significantly improve accuracy in challenging environments, including urban canyons and indoors.

Specifically, the results showed that adding Galileo on top of GPS and GLONASS improves the accuracy of location fixes when indoors or in urban canyons. This improved accuracy will have a profound impact across numerous sectors, including critical situations like E-112 emergency calls. With the European Commission evaluating the mandate of GNSS location on mobile phones for emergency calling purposes, the test results demonstrate the benefit of including Galileo.


Updated: Jan 30, 2017