Progress of Galileo’s Sensor Stations

Drawing of the Galileo satellite. credit ESA

Image Source: ESA

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Galileo system is establishing ground-based sensor stations in the most desolate places on Earth. Most recently, engineers spent the winter of 2011-2012 installing the Galileo Sensor Station on the main island of the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean. According to ESA, these ground-based stations are necessary to maintain four satellites of the Galileo navigation network.

Engineers were deployed on Dec. 13, 2011, and successfully completed installment and testing by Jan. 8. Galileo engineer Fermin Alvarez Lopez said in a RedOrbit article, “Everything had to be done on a single trip, or else it might not have been ready in time.”

The team was able to reuse a surplus protective facility in order to quickly set up the ground-based system and verify regional signal accuracy before leaving the island.

Penguins at Kerguelen Island. Image Source: ESA/Fermin Alvarez Lopez.

Penguins at Kerguelen Island. Image Source: ESA/Fermin Alvarez Lopez.

Next on the Galileo ground-based system agenda is Norway’s Jan Mayen Island, which experiences some of the worst weather in the world and may be described as even lonelier than the Kerguelen Islands, according to ESA. This new station will have to be built on the only flat area of the volcanic island and use a protective “randome” housing facility. Infrastructure on the island was built during the spring and summer months of 2011, allowing the sensor system to be ready for completion later this year. Lopez explains that, “All the Galileo stations we construct around the globe are more or less identical but must contend with very different environments.”

These ground-based stations around the world will monitor Galileo system performance. Evaluations will be sent to the Galileo Control Centre in Fucino, Italy, which will be able to prepare and send correctional messages via a network of Uplink Stations every 100 minutes. In addition to Fucino and Kerguelen, sensor and uplink stations are currently located in Norway’s Svalbard Island, Troll in Antarctica, Reunion in the Indian Ocean, New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean, Kourou in French Guiana, and Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany. There are also two Telemetry, Tracking, and Command stations in Kiruna, Sweden and Kourou, French Guiana.

Protective facility in Norway’s Jan Mayen Island. Image Source: ESA/Fermin Alvarez Lopez.

Protective facility in Norway’s Jan Mayen Island. Image Source: ESA/Fermin Alvarez Lopez.

The ESA Galileo global navigation system is a cooperative effort with the U.S.’s Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s GLONASS system. Galileo will be able to provide civilians with a highly accurate global navigation system down to the meter range. Galileo’s uniqueness is due to its ability to notify users of any satellite system failure, making it a suitable system for safety-critical applications such as running trains, landing aircraft, and guiding cars. The system will use these ground-based systems to deploy four satellites, two of which went into operation in October 2011. The latter two are scheduled to launch this year to complete the In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase of the project, with more satellites to come mid-decade for an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) phase.