Europe's Galileo Moves toward Launch

Article excerpt

After almost nine years of discussion, Europe's Galileo navigation satellite project received its official go-ahead in May. Launching of the first satellite is planned for 2005, with signal transmission by June 2006 at the latest.

At its most basic level, Galileo is simply Europe's contribution to a global navigation satellite infrastructure. To its boosters, however, Galileo is a massive science/technology program that, if successful, could increase the competitiveness of European companies and help increase the productivity of Europe's economies. French President Jacques Chirac has said it could prevent Europe from becoming "a vassal" of the United States.

The first thing to remember about the Galileo positioning system, being developed at great expense by Europe's governments, is that it is never abbreviated GPS. That's because the system is intended as Europe's alternative to the U.S.-owned and operated Global Positioning System--and this is the one universally known as GPS.

Organizing for Development

Galileo was agreed upon officially on May 26 by the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA) after ESA member states finally came to an agreement on their part in its financing. The European Commission's influential and high-profile vice-president, Loyola de Palacio, and ESA's director-general Antonio Rodota, quickly followed up the May breakthrough by signing the "Foundation Act of the Galileo Joint Undertaking" on June 10. This act designates the representatives of the ESA and the EU to the Joint Undertaking's Administrative Board and Executive Committee. In practical terms, this will allow for a rapid establishment of a new organizational entity that will supervise Galileo's development phase.

Quick action seems to be the pattern here: the supervisory board of the Galileo Joint Undertaking and ESA immediately designated Rainer Grohe as Galileo's executive director.

Grohe brings to this job a rich background, principally as an industrial leader with a strong financial and engineering portfolio. For 14 years he served on the Board of an Asea Brown Boveri subsidiary, the Mannheim-based Brown Boveri & Cie AG. For nine years he served on the Board of the German-based industrial giant VIAG AG. More recently, be has chaired the Venture Council, E.ON Venture Partners GmbH, an investment organization created by Europe's largest power company.

Industrial Partnerships First

Rainer Grohe will focus initially on Galileo's core of industrial partnerships. In June, the EU and ESA jointly announced that contracts would be signed as soon as possible in order to enable construction of the first satellite using the frequencies obtained for Galileo at WRC-2000 in Istanbul (a global convention where spectrum allocations are negotiated and confirmed.)

Insiders see the success of these industry contracts as the most critical aspect of Galileo's overall development. The timetable involves the launching of the satellite in 2005 and signal emission by June 2006 at the latest.

Primarily for Civilians

Unlike the U.S. system, Galileo is intended to be primarily for civilian use. The U.S. reserves the right to limit the signal strength of the GPS system so that non-military users cannot use it, or to shut down GPS completely in time of conflict. The EU's system will not (in theory) be subject to shutdown for military purposes.

Also, Galileo's signal will be available at its full precision to all users, both civil and military, and it is expected to be stronger and more reliable than the GPS civilian signal has been. (This is, of course, the concern of U.S. national security officials who argue that terrorists and/or rogue states could then use Galileo's stronger signal service to their own advantage).

The EU has historically had some difficulty trying to secure funding for the operational stage of the Galileo project. …