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Concept art of a Galileo satellite

Galileo satellite navigation system suffers multi-day outage

Image credit: Pierre Carril/ESA/PA Wire

The EU’s global navigation satellite system (GNSS) has entered its fourth day of an outage, which has been traced to issues with the system’s ground infrastructure.

Galileo is a multibillion-euro project named after Italian Renaissance polymath Galileo Galilei, which is intended to end reliance on GNSS services run by the US and other national superpowers. It promises real-time navigation with precise of less than one metre. A pilot service went live in December 2016, and Galileo is expected to be fully deployed in 2020 to provide basic global navigation services free to anyone, with high-precision services for commercial users.

Since 2018, all major GNSS receiver chips support Galileo, with most recent smartphones and all vehicles sold in Europe being able to access the service. The US Federal Communications Commission granted a waiver in November 2018, meaning that a special licence would not be required to receive a service from Galileo.

On 11 July, Galileo announced that the service is degraded on all satellites, such that “the signals may not be available nor meet the minimum performance levels”.

It later announced that the cause of the “technical incident” had been identified, and that it was related to the Galileo ground infrastructure, with a review board set up to analyse the cause and restore service. However, the outage has now reached its fourth day.

At the time of publication, 22 of 24 satellites are unusable. The remaining two satellites are undergoing testing in orbit.

A source had told Inside GNSS that industry and agency teams were working around the clock to restore the services, and estimated that the service would be ‘nominal’ before the end of the weekend (13-14 July). Another source commented that: “As far as I know, it is a problem of the [Precise Timing Facility] in Italy – time has an impact on the whole constellation.”

The Precise Timing Facility is a ground station that uses extremely precise atomic clocks to generate the ‘Master’ time used by the satellites as an accurate time reference, as well as for user localisation: Galileo System Time.

Until the service is restored, Galileo users will be forced to rely on other GNSS services: the American GPS and – if their GNSS chips allow – Russia’s GLONASS and China’s Beidou. Given that Galileo remains in its pilot phase, however, it is likely that only a small number of users have been inconvenienced as a result of the outage.

Due to its pending withdrawal from the EU, the UK has been blocked out of the future development of Galileo, with the European Space Agency beginning procurement for its next stage before the UK could attempt to negotiate privileged access to the programme. Airbus announced in May 2018 that it would move its work on Galileo to French and German factories.

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