Galileo logs first autonomous fix

By on 2 April, 2013

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Galileo, the European satellite navigation system, recently took an important step closer to offering the first services. For the first time ever, a position fix could be obtained based on the signals emitted from the four satellites already deployed.

The obtained accuracy was in the 10 meters range, which, considering the only partly deployed infrastructure, fulfilled ESA’s expectations.

The position fix was obtained by ESA’s navigation laboratory in the Netherlands, using the four satellites – launched in October 2011 and 2012 – and the Galileo programme’s ground infrastructure, the control centres in Italy and Germany plus the global network of ground stations.

This fundamental step confirms the Galileo system works as planned.

“Once testing of the latest two satellites was complete, in recent weeks our effort focused on the generation of navigation messages and their dissemination to receivers on the ground,” explained Marco Falcone, ESA’s Galileo System Manager.

This first position fix of longitude, latitude and altitude took place at the Navigation Laboratory at ESA’s technical heart ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands on 12 March early morning, with an accuracy between 10 and 15 meters which is expected taking into account the limited infrastructure deployed so far.

“The test of today has a dual significance: historical and technical,” notes Javier Benedicto, ESA’s Galileo Project Manager.

“From the historical perspective, this is the first time ever that Europe has been able to determine a position on the ground using only its own independent navigation system, Galileo.

“From the technical perspective, generation of the Galileo navigation messages is an essential step for beginning the full validation activities, before starting the full deployment of the system by the end of this year.”

With only four satellites for the time being, the present Galileo constellation is visible at the same time for a maximum two to three hours daily. This frequency will increase as more satellites join them, along with extra ground stations coming online, for Galileo’s early services to start at the end of 2014.

With the validation testing activities under way, users might experience breaks in the content of the navigation messages being broadcast. In the coming months the messages will be further elaborated to define the ‘offset’ between Galileo System Time and Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), enabling Galileo to be relied on for precision timing applications, as well as the Galileo to GPS Time Offset, ensuring interoperability with GPS.

The definition phase and the development and in-orbit validation phase of the Galileo programme were carried out by ESA and co-funded by ESA and the European Commission.

The Full Operational Capability phase is managed and fully funded by the European Commission. The Commission and ESA have signed a delegation agreement by which ESA acts as design and procurement agent on behalf of the Commission.

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