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ESA Gets Ready To Step Up Galileo Efforts

By | January 5, 2004

      This year promises to be a busy one for the European Space Agency (ESA). It is working on a number of programs aimed at improving communications and space infrastructure in Europe.

      One of those programs is Galileo, Europe’s own global navigation satellite system, which will provide a civilian positioning service. The Galileo Joint Undertaking, established by ESA and the European Commission (EC), recently issued a tender for the Galileo concession. The Joint Undertaking plans to begin negotiations with shortlisted bidders with a view to awarding the Galileo contract and selecting the future Galileo operating company.

      In terms of the tender, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain told SATELLITE NEWS: “They have received the offers now and as far as I know, they are just opening the envelopes to see who has answered the tender. What I do know is that there are several proposals. I don’t want to speak on behalf of the Joint Undertaking but they have received several offers for the future building of Galileo … now there will be an evaluation process.”

      In terms of the main challenges ahead for Galileo, ESA is responsible for launching the first experimental satellite by the end of 2005 to test the new technologies in orbit. “Our main task is to develop the in-orbit validation phase, which is a very important phase because we have to demonstrate through this in-orbit validation that there are grounds for an operational phase,” Dordain said.

      He added: “This would then be the responsibility of the ‘concessionaire’. We have just finalized the contracts for the so-called phase zero, which is a phase that will last six months. In this six month period, we will make the definition of this in-orbit validation and our plan is to contract the final phase for the development of this in-orbit validation by the second half of next year in order to have the four demonstration satellites in orbit by 2007.”

      At least one Galileo satellite must be launched before June 2006 in order to keep the international frequency allocation. On this issue, Dordain said: “If we are not launching a satellite before then we risk losing the frequency we have selected to make the exploration of Galileo. So, we are working on that. We are pretty busy putting the in-orbit validation phase in place. We have a clear separation of the roles with the Joint Undertaking. We are in charge of the in-orbit phase and the Joint Undertaking is in charge of the selection of the companies in terms of the concession. They are also in charge of collecting the funds for the next phase, which is the deployment phase.”

      Effective Complement

      The fully deployed Galileo system is expected to consist of 30 satellites (27 operational and 3 spare). The system is designed to reach operational capacity in 2008. Dordain said that Galileo would be an effective complement to the U.S. Global Positioning System, a rival satellite navigation system. He commented: “It is important to have two such systems because one can be used as a backup for the other. You never know what can happen with a space system and if in the future all traffic is dependent on navigation satellites, it is much better to have two independent systems with one playing the back-up to the other one than to rely on one constellation. Clearly, because of the importance of these satellites for air, maritime and terrestrial traffic, I don’t think the world can rely on one system, especially relying one system (GPS), which is controlled by a different sector.”

      Dordain observed that U.S., as well as European, users will benefit from Galileo. “I don’t see why this can’t be beneficial to U.S. users. Considering all the services, which are being developed from space infrastructure, we cannot guarantee that the competition between the different service providers is fair. So with Galileo, we are giving European service providers the chance to plug their services into Galileo in parallel with GPS. At least with Galileo, there will be the same opportunities for European service providers that GPS is offering U.S. service providers.”


      Ironically, while Galileo and GPS could be complementary systems, the two systems highlight some key differences between U.S. and European space policy. Dordain commented: “The navigation with GPS is developed and operated by the U.S. Navy, while in Europe, Galileo is being developed by the EC and ESA. That is why it is not so helpful to compare the different budgets because a significant part of what is financed under defense budgets in the U.S. are financed under civilian budgets in Europe. This choice clearly demonstrates what is at the root of space development. What is at the root of space development in the U.S. is clearly defense. In Europe, it is more institutional needs, as well as meeting the needs of citizens.”

      Dordain expects a busy year in 2004. ESA recently concluded a framework agreement with the EC to establish a more coherent space policy for Europe. The agreement aims to make joint programs between the two organizations easier to implement going forward. Improving the framework for future European space programs is vital. Dordain said: “I have a number of objectives for the next four years. Clearly, the objective is to establish a good relationship between ESA and the European Community. This is certainly the most important objective.”

      With the European Union set to expand over the next couple of years, one of the key challenges for ESA and the EC will be to implement programs that enable European citizens to benefit from new digital technologies. “There is a clear digital divide in Europe. First of all, there is a divide in Western Europe between the cities and the rural areas. There is also a divide between the member states. Space systems can bring part of the solution to the digital divide,” Dordain concluded.

      –Mark Holmes

      (Franco Bonacina, European Space Agency, 33-1-5369-7713)

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