Emergency EU Galileo sat-nav service plans develop

An encrypted satellite navigation system using the EU's nascent Galileo system will be open to emergency and security services, under European Commission proposals published on Friday
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Secure satellite navigation for emergency and security services moved closer to reality under proposals published by the European Commission on Friday.

The proposals cover access rules for the Public Regulated Service (PRS), which will be set up on the back of Europe's Galileo satellite system and will use highly encrypted signals to protect against threats to infrastructure in the case of disasters or terrorist threats. PRS will only be accessible to authorised governmental bodies and, according to the Commission, "third [party] countries and international organisations who conclude the appropriate agreements with the European Union".

"The safety and security of each and every European citizen lies at the heart of this proposal," industry and entrepreneurship commissioner Antonio Tajani said in a statement. "Given our increasing reliance on satellite navigation infrastructures, there is an urgent need to ensure that key services, such as our police forces and rescue and emergency services, continue to function in moments of crisis, terrorist threat or disaster.

"Furthermore, the market for PRS applications offers an important opportunity for Europe's entrepreneurs," he added.

According to the Commission, PRS will be resistant to so-called spoofing, where satellite signals are distorted or jammed. "PRS could be used in crisis situations where it is important that emergency and security services continue to function even when other services have been cut as part of security measures," the Commission said.

The proposals published on Friday are intended to control who accesses PRS, the production of service's receivers and the potential export of the service's receivers. Member states who wish to use the system will gave to set up a PRS authority to manage and control end-users and the production of PRS receivers. The European Parliament and Council will have to approve the new rules if they are to come into force.

PRS is one of five services that will be offered over the Galileo satellite constellation, which is Europe's putative alternative to the US-controlled Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation. The other services are an open service for public sat-nav, a search-and-rescue service, a 'safety-of-life' service and a commercial service.

On Wednesday, the Financial Times Deutschland said a confidential German government report indicated Galileo was experiencing serious delays and financial overruns. The article said the EU now estimates there will be additional costs of at least €1.5bn (£1.3bn), and the constellation will only be up and running by 2017 at the earliest, rather than the official target of 2014. This is not the first time the scheme has come under fire over costs and timing: in 2009, the Commission's own auditors issued a report criticising the Commission's leadership on Galileo.

In its release on Friday, the Commission stuck to the 2014 timescale. Speaking to ZDNet UK, Charlotte Arwidi, commissioner Tajani's acting spokeswoman, said the Commission was sticking with its Galileo budget of €3.4bn, and was "not aware of any new estimates of costs".

"There may be a request for more money in the future but we don't know yet what that will be," Arwidi said, adding that the Commission was also "not aware of any delays" and was "still focusing on staying to budget". According to the current schedule, the first two Galileo satellites will go into orbit next year.

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