You’re probably wondering why the EU has invested in those complicated satellite navigation systems and on cyber security. You may be asking yourselves why Russia and China are developing anti-satellite systems that can shut down or disable satellites. Or why, in late 2020, NATO set up a new space command centre in Germany to counter cyber-threats. The answer is that the space market is highly dynamic, emerging sector, which will soon prove to be key for economics, defence and politics.
An Introduction: The Space Sector
As the number of “connected devices” grow exponentially, the market for satellites is expected to be worth as much as 250 billion/year by 2022. In addition, the downstream market before added-value service is expected to generate over 70 billion in revenue annually. According to EU figures, Europe’s €11 billion investment in Galileo will generate €90 billion of benefits for industries.
As space becomes hotly contested and the market increasingly competitive, threats are rapidly emerging. They can range from low-end, reversible cyber-threats such as jamming and spoofing communication signals to high-end threats with irreversible effects such as ground, air or space-based anti-satellite weapons, or collision and debris hazards.
As satellite positioning has become the standard means of navigating, with ships, aircrafts and even the common citizen is relying on them, the effects of cyber attacks or signal degradation would therefore range from annoying (with your phone’s navigation system not working) to mild (where ships and plane find it inconvenient to navigate) to severe, with human safety being at risk.
Moreover, as stated by Diris, Head of Telecommunications and Navigation Projects at the French Space Agency, global security contexts and geopolitics are changing. This meansit is “increasingly critical to ensure the independent capabilities and freedom of action of the European Union and its Member States”. On the other hand, as Europe becomes less reliant on foreign satellites, the space sector is continuously undergoing massive changes: from the arrival of new actors to cyber attacks and developments in technology.
With this note, the EU has cited the need of high-level security objectives and the need of continuous funding for new technologies, to ensure that it can continue securing a place in space in the future. This wish which seems to have been heard by the EU Commission’s proposals for a new €16 billion EU Space programme.
EU History: The GNSS Market
In 1999 the EU devised a plan to have its own global satnav system: GALILEO. It was entering a competitive market with China, India and Japan trying to expand their regional satnavs (BeiDou, IRNSS and QZSS respectively) to global ones, and Russia and the U.S. already having operational global navigational services.
To hold a secure place in the GNSS market, the EU promised to build a state-of-art GNSS, which also responded to and satisfied the civil-sector’s need while offering most services free-of-charge.
Prior to 2011, when Galileo initial services came into operation, the only two fully operational GNSS were the United States Global Positioning System and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System. 11% of the EU’s GDP (€1,300 billion) therefore relied on foreign satnav signals whose signals could be disabled or degraded during conflicts.
Nowadays, the situation is quite different, and has seen the EU’s role advance exponentially.
Galileo’s operational initial services, launched in 2016, comprised of 18 satellites in orbit and several tracking and control centres. In mid-2020, 26 satellites were in orbit providing highly accurate navigation signals to over 1.5 billion smartphones and devices worldwide.
The 3 different services which cater to different users are the open-service for the mass market, the search and rescue (SAR) service for the rescue services and the military, and the Public Regulated service (PRS) for government authorized users.
The open-service caters the mass market, enabling better navigation devices in cars and smartphones and enhancing sustainable agriculture. As the Galileo system is interoperable, therefore could be used in conjunction with GPS or GLONASS, it provides excellent precision and accuracy to ensure worldwide positioning. Optimizing travel routes means that fuel consumption is expected to go down. Regarding agriculture, the steering systems’ machinery will benefit from free-of-charge accurate signals (less than 1 cm is accuracy), resulting in precision farming and reducing the need of fertilizers – therefore less CO2.
The Search and Rescue Service
The SAR Service is a joint-collaboration between EU Commission, GSA, ESA and others. It is expected to be a major improvement to the emergency beacon technologies. Galileo’s localization services detect the position of the person in distress up to 1m, far better than current identification technologies with cell-identification technologies uncertainty being in the 2-10km range and cellular signal in the 3-4 m range.
The SAR is also the first system which provides situational awareness for the person in distress, informing the requester that the distress alert has been detected and help is on the way, and providing confirmation to the SAR teams. Time to detect emergencies is expected to improve as international distress beacon, locating the person in need, are sent to the relevant authorities who can quickly initiate the SAR operations. The Galileo Return Link Service was declared operational in January 2020.
Public Regulated service
PRS is an encrypted navigation service for government-authorized users and critical and sensitive applications. The EU Commission has cited that the project’s main aims are to boost EU Member States’ military capability, create business opportunities in the EU Defence (military) field and maximize the benefits of the Galileo programme by ensuring adoption of services in all EU Member States and beyond.
Key players are GEODE, Airbus D&S, Antwerp Space, Cy4gate and many more. By offering governmental grade encryption only authorized users are able to access the signals. Moreover, PRS signals are robust to cyber-attacks such as spoofing (counterfeit GNSS signals) and jamming (intentional interference with GNSS to degrade GNSS services) and help in identifying cyber-attackers. The service is also to be used as last resort, providing continuity to services to authorised users when access to other navigation services are attacked or degraded. Completion is expected in 2026.
Current situation & Projecting into the future
The EU’s progress is not showing signs of slowing down. Indeed, further EU investments occurred in early-2020, when the EU Commission handed down industrial contracts worth €1.47 billion to build 12 “Galileo Next Generation” satellites (these bids were won by Airbus and Thales), to reach the full-capacity 30 satellite-constellation. The 12 satellites, which rely on state-of-art technology, are expected to be launched in 2024. Relying mainly on digital design, the EU wishes to improve the robustness and accuracy of signal beam down earth thereby improving the system’s performance. It also plans to integrate better cyber solutions to prevent cyber-attacks on the PRS and integrate new services in the SAR. For example, emergency services will be able to broadcast warnings related to natural disasters in late 2021.
Regarding the accumulation of space debris, collision-avoidance manoeuvres to avoid debris are becoming more and more frequent. Therefore, in early March 2021, the European GNSS Agency (GSA) performed a key collaboration with the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST). They worked on a collision-avoidance manoeuvre on the GSAT2019 satellite to avoid collisions with an inert Ariane 4 upper-stage launched in 1989.
Recent estimates state that the economic impact of Galileo is around 90 billion euros in the first 20 years of operation. Galileo has allowed the EU to strongly secure a place at the forefront of GNSSS developments. Having our own independent high-positioning systems GNSS system ensures that EU nations can be autonomous and self-reliant.
Along with the initial objectives, Galileo’s improved coverage of satellite signals at higher latitudes implies that Galileo will provide greater localization accuracy than any other GNSS system. Galileo is also the only system which will be guaranteed to be always available—even during war or political disagreement.
Lastly, let us not forget that the EU’s ongoing efforts and recent success of Galileo services remind us that the EU never shies away in placing citizens’ interests in their plans, no matter how far away into space they may seem.