LONDON — When the European Union introduced its own satellite navigation program, it billed the service as more robust, precise and reliable than GPS — and a way to end the bloc’s reliance on the system controlled by the United States military.
But most of the European navigation system, known as Galileo, has been out of use since Thursday — the latest mishap to befall the program since it began running in a pilot phase in late 2016.
The episodes have raised questions over whether new satellite launches in the Galileo program, which the European Commission said would be fully operational by 2020, should be paused until experts find the cause of the failures.
Galileo is available free to anyone around the world, and the European Union says that around 100 million smartphones are capable of receiving its signals. Users are unlikely to have noticed the outage because phones and other devices are programmed to use Galileo in conjunction with other services such as GPS, Russia’s Glonass system and China’s Beidou.
The Galileo Search and Rescue service, used to locate and help people in distress at sea or in the mountains, was unaffected and remained operational, the European Commission said.
Asked about the outage on Tuesday afternoon, a European Commission spokeswoman referred to a statement last updated on Sunday, which said that a technical incident related to Galileo’s ground infrastructure had led to an interruption in its navigation and timing services. There was no indication as to when most services will be running again.
“Experts are working to restore the situation as soon as possible, and users are being informed regularly,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
Galileo improves positioning accuracy by nearly 30 percent when compared with devices that use GPS alone, according to statistical data published this year in Advances in Space Research.
The European Commission and the European Space Agency launched the first satellite to work as part of Galileo in 2005. The European service is the first satellite navigation system under civilian control; GPS has been in civilian use since the 1980s but is controlled by the United States military.
But teething problems have affected Galileo since soon after the launch of its pilot phase nearly three years ago.
Less than a month into that phase, atomic clocks onboard 18 Galileo satellites then in orbit began to fail. The problems did not cause the entire system to go down, because several clocks had been installed in each satellite.
The emailed statement from the European Commission said that it was not “uncommon for a complex global navigation system like Galileo, in an ‘initial services’ phase, to experience temporary issues affecting the quality of the signal.”
“While the current incident is very unfortunate,” the statement added, “it is precisely to cater for such initial technical incidents that the E.U. is rolling out Galileo progressively.”
For the next phase of the bloc’s long-term budget, running from 2021 to 2027, the European Commission has proposed to allocate 16 billion euros, or nearly $18 billion, for a space program including Galileo.
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