European taxpayers will shell out €2.4 billion ($3.25 billion) up front if a European Commission proposal that it assume control of the Galileo navigation program is approved. The executive body of the European Union announced its intentions after a consortium of eight private aerospace and telecom companies missed the May 10 deadline to appoint a CEO and submit plans to operate and maintain the system as a single company.
In a statement that surprised Western observers, China announced late last year that it will launch its own 35-satellite, GPS-like global navigation system over the next several years. Thirty of these satellites will fly in medium-earth orbits at around 12,000 miles altitude, similar to that of GPS, while the remaining five will be equally spaced around the equator in WAAS-like geostationary orbits and perform a similar service.
The biggest question remaining about Europe’s homegrown satellite navigation project appears to be not whether the satnav network will ever be built but rather who will run the multibillion-dollar Galileo system after the first of its 30 satellites are launched later this year.
China has disclosed that it intends to build a GPS-like global navigation system. Named Compass, the $2 billion system would have 30 satellites in medium earth orbits similar to the current GPS. Five additional satellites will provide WAAS-like and other functions, with a forecast 10-meter accuracy free to all users. Western experts predict likely operation between 2015 and 2020.
The air transport industry in Europe employs about 3.1 million people, and if air traffic doubles in 15 years as expected, the sector will contribute up to 13 percent of Europe’s gross domestic product. A thriving aerospace industry is therefore a key factor in the 25-nation European Union’s “Lisbon Strategy” to become the “most competitive economy in the world.”
While it may be hard to believe that the global positioning system (GPS) is already more than a quarter century old, it may be equally difficult to imagine that by 2020 there will be more than 100 navigation satellites crisscrossing in outer space, high above us. Yet the first is true and, barring unforeseen eventualities, the second will also be true.
For member companies of Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) as a whole, 2005 was a remarkably good year, with revenues of €113 billion ($141 billion). Over the same period, employment also grew by 13,000 to reach 614,000, with the growth largely driven by the commercial aeronautics sector.
GPS Satellite SVN-15 will celebrate its 16th birthday in space this month, and by next spring it will have circled the earth 12,000 times (roughly twice a day), continuously transmitting navigation signals to us. That’s amazing performance, especially considering that its original orbital life was expected to be 7.5 years.
Since it was disclosed late last month that President Bush has directed the Department of Defense to draw up plans for temporarily disabling the U.S. network of GPS satellites during a national crisis to prevent terrorists from using the technology, operators have been seeking more details and clarification of the policy. How U.S. policy would apply to Galileo, Europe’s planned GPS network, is unknown.
Senior U.S. and international government and industry officials told specialists attending two meetings recently that by 2020 as many as 100 satellites could be radiating GPS-compatible navigation signals to air, sea and land users, with the overwhelming proportion of users being on land.