News > European Commission and stakeholder community preparing to launch next round of R&D projects for EU’s global navigation satellite system

BRUSSELS – Future expansion of the EU’s nascent Galileo satellite navigation system should include a global search and rescue function, say stakeholders. The financial commitment for this and other second-generation satellite functions would be crucial within the EU’s Horizon 2020 (H2020) research budget, says Paul Flament, head of the satellite programmes unit at the European Commission’s directorategeneral for enterprise and industry (DG ENTR).

Galileo “is still very much in its infancy” with only four prevalidation satellites in the sky, said Flament, adding that H2020 funding will be used for Galileo’s nextgeneration of satellites, leading to a total of 26 in the coming years. Horizon 2020 is setting aside approximately EUR 7 billion during 2014- 2020 to finance R&D activities for Galileo and EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) programmes.

Flament and other officials voiced their comments during a “European Global Navigation Satellite System” workshop organised here on 4 June by the Commission to gather H2020 research ideas from Europe’s satellite community.

One of the more interesting suggestions coming from the workshop’s floor was to equip Galileo’s next satellites with a “two-way responder system” able to receive locational/ distress signals from user transmitters, such as on vessels, and relay them to regional rescue co-ordination centres, which would then launch a rescue operation.

H2020’s satellite sub-budget will be used to finance such ideas as well as to support EGNOS. Due to the long lead times required to build, test, and launch satellites, Flament said the Commission must start to “plan for the future” now. He said H2020’s “space-devoted budget” will set aside 30 percent for EGNSS applications and infrastructure.

A precursor to Galileo, EGNOS’ bundles of services will function as the first pan-European satellite navigation system. According to the European Space Agency, it “augments the US GPS (global navigation system) network” by offer safety-critical applications for the navigation of air platforms or ships moving through narrow channels. Galileo is Europe’s own constellation of global navigation satellites and will be interoperable with GPS and GLONASS, the Russian global satellite navigation system.

During the workshop Hermann Ebner, head of the Galileo and EGNOS technical implementation sector at DG ENTR, said the Commission said there was growing internal pressure for Europe to accelerate its satellite ambitions since GPS and GLONASS are currently the only two navigation systems in operation. China, too, plans to enter the fray with its BeiDou satnav system, which is in its testing phase and to be fully rolled out by 2020. Thus, the Commission wants Galileo to have achieved significant operational progress by the same date.

  • Ebner said evolution of the whole ENSS programme faces five major challenges, namely to:
  • tailor the next generation of EGNSS systems to fulfil user needs and market trends
  • forge broad user acceptance of EGNSS in the world’s future multi-system environment
  • strike the right balance of functions between future EGNSS systems and future terminals
  • preserve full backward compatibility with EGNSS legacy services
  • maximize the benefits of targeted mission & service enhancements versus the life-cycle costs of next-gen EGNSS infrastructures

Ebner also pointed to four “missionevolution directions”: improved interoperability with other GNSS systems, enhancement of Galileo’s mission performance, expansion of Galileo’s service portfolio, and improved EGNSS service capabilities over Europe. The benchmark for Galileo is the United States’ modernised GPS. The Commission plans to make Galileo better via a top-down structured process, starting with EU policy objectives based on analysis of the evolution of user needs and market trends.

Tanja Zegers, DG-ENTR policy officer on European GNSS Infrastructure R&D, added that the scope of H2020 was “to safeguard” the EU’s space infrastructure and programmes such as Galileo and to “sustain a future role for Europe in space.” She said H2020 will fund the study of future mission objectives and services, as well as ways to enhance existing ones.

DG-ENTR’s satellite R&D work programme is biannual. Its next update of the 2014-15 cycle will be adopted in July, with consultation on the 2016-17 cycle just now beginning, she said.

The upshot:

If the next generation of EGNSS systems and satellites do not evolve quickly enough to meet future user needs and market trends then Galileo will be perennially limping behind the others. Europe’s satellite ambitions have suffered years of delay due to the usual cat-fights between industries in different member states and the slow take-up of services on the ground. This is one area where the US, Russia and China can move much faster because of their unitary political systems. Do not place all your money on the European horse.