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July 15, 2019

“Satellite Affected: All” – Europe’s £9 Billion Galileo System Goes Dark

All satellites affected. Issue traced to Precise Timing Facility in Fucino, Italy;

By CBR Staff Writer

START DATE EVENT (UTC): 2019-07-12 01:50
END DATE EVENT (UTC): N/A
SATELLITE AFFECTED: ALL
EVENT DESCRIPTION: UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE, USERS EXPERIENCE A SERVICE OUTAGE. THE SIGNALS ARE NOT TO BE USED.

Europe’s Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS) is suffering a satellite-wide service outage – and visitors to its service centre have had no update since the stark notification above (“satellite affected: all”) posted early on Friday morning. The system was first reported as suffering a service outage at 1:00am on Thursday.

The 26-satellite constellation is being established as a European alternative to the US’s GPS and Russian GLONASS signals, with the aim of improving European independence. It is a joint project of the European Commission, the European GNSS Agency (GSA) and the European Space Agency. It will be fully operational in 2020.

Galileo has some 400 million users, the EC says. A function that picks up distress beacon messages for search and rescue is unaffected.

Galileo Outage: PTC Facility Issues Blamed

The single short notice on the top of the page was later augmented with a statement from the GNSS project’s newsroom, which said: “Experts are working to restore the situation as soon as possible. An Anomaly Review Board has been immediately set up to analyse the exact root cause and to implement recovery actions.”

The problem is believed to involve the Precise Timing Facility at Fucino, Italy; the site of a European spacecraft ground station since the 1960s. Users speculated that the issue may involve a software issue with OSPF, the service that computes and generates Galileo’s ephemeris, or “the position of that satellite, at a given time, in the spherical polar coordinate system of right ascension and declination”.

Users say there has been no signal outage, but rather “aged ephemeris” triggering rejection by the PVT (position, velocity, time) engine of Galileo for positioning/navigation data at the front-end of the system.

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The project operators will no doubt be looking long and hard at the system’s levels of redundancy, post-recovery. With Europe hoping for Galileo to become a leading provider of civilian satellite positioning data, recovering trust in its resilience will be crucial as the system itself is brought back online.

Read also: Four More Satellites Added to Galileo System – Each Containing UK Tech

With Galileo not yet fully operational, impact has been limited.

As Galileo’s own homepage puts it however: “Satellite positioning has become an essential service that we often take for granted. Just think what would happen if GNSS signals were suddenly switched off. Truck and taxi drivers, ship and aircraft crews and millions of people around the world would suddenly be lost.

“Furthermore, financial and communication activities, public utilities, security and humanitarian operations and emergency services would all come to a standstill. In other words, as the use of satellite-based navigation systems continues to expand, the implications of a potential signal failure become even greater.”

The UK has contributed over £1 billion to Galileo, but since the vote to leave the European Union has been shut out of contracts [pdf]. On 28 August 2018, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, pledged to spend £92 million on scoping out an alternative to Galileo if the UK continues to be shut out of contract and security discussions.

British industry provided much of Galileo’s encrypted computed-based Public Regulated Service system, which helps provide data to military and security users for missile targeting and other requirements.

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