Europe's Galileo Losing Out to U.S. GPS

The European Union’s ambitious plan to build its own satellite navigation network to rival the United States’ Global Positioning System has run into a snag, with an industry consortium balking at financially supporting the effort.

The EU and the consortium â€" a who’s who of the European space and communications industries, including Alcatel-Lucent, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, Inmarsat, and others â€" have not been able to negotiate a contract to fund the European navigation system, called Galileo. That has caused a ”serious threat” to the project, said Jacques Barrot, European Commission vice-president for Transport. If Galileo is to become reality, EU member countries and taxpayers would have to foot the bill, he said.

Galileo industry partners were expected to pay for two-thirds of the cost of the system and the EU one-third, with the investment paid back by the sale of satellite navigation services, the BBC reported. The BBC estimated the market for navigational services would hit $650 billion a year by 2025.

Despite the alluring revenue stream, maybe the industry consortium figured out the obvious: Why would anyone pay for precise location and navigation services from Galileo when they could get the same thing free from the U.S. backed GPS system, which is only going to get better.

The Times of London doubts if Galileo will ever get off the ground when it has to compete with free GPS service. “Europe’s desire to offer a competing system has been stymied by the free service provided by GPS,” the Times wrote in an opinion piece. “How do you persuade a minicab driver to subscribe to a Galileo navigation system when he can get GPS gratis?”

The EU has touted the accuracy of Galileo as better than GPS, with Galileo providing locations within one meter. But the Air Force plans to release a request for proposals this Monday for GPS III satellites, which will rival the accuracy of Galileo.

John Duddy, GPS program manager for Boeing, which with Lockheed Martin is on the Air Force short list for the GPS III contract, told Tech Insider that Boeing believes it can build GPS satellites that will provide accuracy “down to around a meter,” coupled with a more powerful signal than existing GPS birds.

Barrot said that EU member states must come up with funds for Galileo quickly to meet the service date of 2012. But considering the level of effort needed to get buy-in, the United States may well beat Galileo into orbit with the new GPS III satellites, which will provide four signals for civilian users and new jam-proof signals for military users.

James Miller, senior GPS technologist, space communications and navigation at NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, said in a presentation last month at the Satellite Positioning and Application Research Center in Tokyo that the first GPS III satellite should be launched in 2013 or close to when the EU originally planned to turn on Galileo.