EU space programmes creating cross-sector impact

EU space systems can help provide 'real solutions' to tackle business and societal challenges, says Carlo des Dorides.

By Carlo des Dorides

30 Jul 2014

Two of the European Union's space programmes, Galileo and Copernicus, have just entered a new financial framework for the period 2014-2021. At the same time, new governance schemes for how these programmes are run came into effect at the close of last year and this spring. The European commission is in charge of the overall mission, including setting the roadmap and budget, for European geostationary navigation overlay service (EGNOS), Copernicus and Galileo. The European space agency (ESA) serves as the core engineer of these programmes, having been delegated the responsibilities of system design and development. As these programmes become operational, the European global navigation satellite system agency (GSA) is charged with managing their operations and developing their service provision. With EGNOS now fully operational, the GSA is focused on what we call the 'service provision' side of the equation, or the development of new system capacities and services.

"Exploitation is where the most important paradigm shift from a technology focused push to a service orientated pull must occur"

Similar efforts are occurring across other sectors too, including road, maritime, rail, mapping, location-based services and agriculture. Europe's space programmes are developing quickly and are already having an impact across many sectors. In order to ensure expectations are met, having a competent, dedicated and agile team in place to oversee the service provision is necessary. What one has to understand is that Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus are more than just space programmes, they are service programmes. The GSA's new role is intended to facilitate the move from a system that was technology-driven to one that is user-driven. One area of confusion, at least to the non-initiated, is understanding the line between ESA and the GSA. The only room for confusion could be in name, as we both deal with space and, more specifically, satellites. Beyond that, however, there are clear divisions of labour. I like to describe the ESA as the builder, they design and put the infrastructure in place, and the GSA is the installer, operating and maintaining it; guaranteeing an adequate service level; and developing applications and services that ensure the satellites benefit end users.

As with any change, there are always risks. In this context, I would say the greatest risk is that we are creating a heavy machine. However, what we now have is a machine that is made to synchronise the work of its individual parts in order to create a more efficient result. The new governance scheme is the machine needed to produce a more efficient European space programme. As mentioned before, under the new governance scheme ESA designs and develops and the GSA manages the exploitation. Exploitation is where the most important paradigm shift from a technology-focused push to a service-orientated pull must occur. As Galileo moves from design and development to initial services, the GSA will take up the exploitation role. In fact, we are already getting ready for a transition to Galileo in 2017. For example, with Galileo we aim to provide a tangible service to European citizens. To do this, our team is currently engaged in dialogue with users across all sectors, understanding their needs, promoting standardisation and fostering the overall market adoption. With GPS and Russian GNSS (GLONASS) already in operation, and Compass and Beidou not far behind, one could argue the sky is becoming rather crowded. But with satellite navigation, there is no such thing as too many. Galileo will be part of a 'multi-constellation' system that will provide better performance and accuracy for the end-user, in particular in difficult environments when satellites are not in the line of sight, like in cities. To illustrate the importance of this, we recently conducted tests to measure the performance of Galileo when used in various combinations with GPS and GLONASS. The results showed that adding Galileo on top of GPS and GLONASS improves the accuracy of location fixes when indoors and in urban canyons. This improved accuracy will have a profound impact across numerous sectors, including critical situations like emergency 112 calls.

"Galileo will be part of a 'multiconstellation' system that will provide better performance and accuracy for the end-user"

Last but not least, I believe what distinguishes Galileo from other GNSS programmes is its civil nature. Whereas programmes like GPS and GLONASS are essentially military projects enjoyed by civil users, Galileo is completely civil in nature. This distinction is important as it will allow for a committed service level with users. Speaking of coexisting with other GNSS systems, with Galileo, Europe will have two systems itself. Not only is Galileo designed to coexist with other international GNSS programmes, it is also designed to coexist with EGNOS, a regional system. The systems will complement and enhance each other, as the US systems, GPS and wide area augmentation system do. There are many interesting synergies between the European satellite navigation programmes and Copernicus, especially in applications development, which shows more and more convergence between the two systems. As was demonstrated for the third time in the European space solutions conference in Prague, users of spacepowered services rarely think specifically about one system or another. What users look for are real solutions to business and societal challenges from space, and in many cases the answer comes from a combination of leveraging both satellite navigation and earth observation assets.

Read the most recent articles written by Carlo des Dorides - Towards a more connected society and economy

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