Middle East mulls EGNOS adoption

Various plans are developing to extend the EC’s EGNOS and Galileo satellite navigation systems to the Middle East and Africa, according to manufacturers involved in the projects.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  January 5, 2004

The European Commission (EC) has made much of China and India’s recent investments in Galileo, the US$3billion venture between it and the European Space Agency (ESA) to build an independent navigation system for the aviation sector and other industries by 2008. But civil aviation authorities in the Middle East, as well as service providers to other industry sectors, are also believed to be mulling how to implement Galileo and its likely forerunner, EGNOS (European Geo-stationary Navigation Overlay Service). “EGNOS will be the first step in the Middle East towards Galileo,” says Michel Pellegrino, business development director at Alcatel Space, the Toulouse-based firm involved in manufacturing the satellites to support the system. “Civil aviation [authorities] in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) are studying how to implement EGNOS to improve navigation,” he adds. EGNOS — an ‘add-on’ designed to improve the accuracy of the US military-controlled global positioning system (GPS) — is expected to be fully operational later this year. It is essentially designed to tell end users whether they can ‘trust’ GPS positioning information as its additional satellites will provide correction signals that offset a number of errors intrinsic to GPS and allow horizontal accuracies to be improved from a typical range of 10m to 20m to between 3m and 5m. EGNOS will also increase the availability of navigation information as its satellites are intended to be visible at all times, and provide ‘integrity signals’ which alert users to errors in GPS signals within six seconds. In the first phase of any adoption of EGNOS, its coverage would first be extended from Europe. A standalone system would then be deployed in the region, supported by a ground network of monitoring stations and processing functions that can then relay positioning and alarm signals via satellite to users. “The problem with GPS is that it is a minimal system and the performance can be degraded — you don’t have the required accuracy when you use GPS,” says Pellegrino. “The first step would be to extend the coverage of [EGNOS] and then to develop an independent system under the control of the region,” he adds. An advantage of this plan would be to create time to verify EGNOS’ accuracy and to plan which satellites would carry the necessary payload to run a regional system. “First of all, we have to demonstrate the efficiency of the system. This will take one or two years. Then there will be time to [place] the payload on another satellite,” says Pellegrino. In the aviation sector, EGNOS is being considered as a complement to Navisat, a satellite system currently going through feasibility studies, which would cover MEA. “The EGNOS extension and the Navisat project would be two complementary parts of the same puzzle — the EGNOS part being the terrestrial infrastructure and the Navisat the space segment that would provide the communications, navigation and surveillance services,” says Pellegrino. The EC is also trying to extend EGNOS to other safety transport users such as rail freight and maritime firms. Discussions are believed to be ongoing through the EC’s Euro-Mediterranean partnership programme, to establish a global satellite navigation systems (GNSS) office in Egypt or another North African country next year, which would act as a focal point for application development around EGNOS and Galileo. It would facilitate interaction between GNSS stakeholders and extend the systems’ use to the region’s transport, agriculture, fishing, water management, mining and other industry sectors. The centre could also lay the groundwork for adoption of Galileo, which will comprise 30 satellites and is expected to increase positioning accuracy to within one metre — as well as reducing international reliance on the Penatgon’s GPS. “Even if there were no ‘political’ issues, it would still be unwise to become increasingly reliant on a single system, however good it was,” adds Richard Peckham, head of business development, navigation and constellations at satellite manufacturer, EADS Astrium. And with China and India recently committing to the programme, vendors also hope adoption of EGNOS in the Middle East will be the first step towards a regional component of the Galileo network. “With EGNOS, the accuracy is less than 5m but it is still a military system. They can switch it off they want,” adds Pellegrino.

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