The star – like move is finished!

The time has come—our capital will be for the first time home to an important European Union wide agency. The Union’s agency GSA has commenced its role in the Czech Republic at the beginning of September to govern the European satellite and navigation system Galileo. The building of the former Czech Consolidation Agency located in Prague-Holesovice, where the GSA will be based, will be responsible mainly for the security and market development of the programme. The United Kingdom and France will host the carefully protected Galileo security monitoring centres and the headquarters for the navigation part of the programme will be in Italy and Germany.

Although much has been said and written about Galileo, it is worth mentioning what this programme is about. Basically, it is the new generation of the well-known American system GPS, which was in the past solely used by the army. Apart from the most famous American system, Russia has a functioning system called Glonass and China is developing its own system called Compass. Very active are also Japan and India, which also want their own satellite and navigation system. Compared to the other programmes, Galileo is the only civil project. Therefore, there cannot be a situation where the army will block the signal in certain areas or even that the army would decide to temporarily switch of the whole system. Galileo will be an independent system from the American GPS, but it will function together in parallel. The portfolio of Galileo services is much wider. For example drivers will be able to obtain information with accuracy of two to four metres. The GPS’ resolution is around 15 metres. The system is formed to be active; thus it will be able to transmit and receive signals, which can be practical, for example when we will be in a dangerous situation, the satellite will be able to locate us. Galileo will offer five different services that range from open services to security and emergency services.

Galileo has made its first big step towards its realization in October 2011, when the first two operational satellites were launched using the Soyuz rocket from the twenty-thousand city of Kourou in French Guiana. With this launch the EU has commenced its implementation phase of the long-planned, financially and technically complicated project. I am honoured to be the only Czech and the European Parliament representative to be part of this launch event. The other two satellites of the in-orbit validation phase will be launched at the end of September, which will enable system validation and it will gather in-orbit experience. According to the recent plans, fourteen other satellites will be launched until the end of 2014. In parallel, intensive work has been carried out on ground stations of the system and last suitable EU oversees destinations are being selected. In order to complete the constellation of satellites and ensure the optimal functioning of the system, 14 other satellites should be launched until the end of 2020.

In autumn 2009, as the Vice-Chairman of the Industry, Research and Energy committee of the European Parliament I was assigned to consolidate the legislation for the biggest EU project—Galileo. The whole process has lasted almost one year. The many difficult meetings have been a school of diplomacy to me. The initial legislative proposal for the governance of the project was to set up a public private partnership. However the business side of the project has pulled out and without the intervention of the European Commission, the project would end up in liquidation. However this meant that the European Commission has to pay the full amount for the project and it will need to decide on the ownership structure. New structure together with the new governing mechanisms of the project needed to be set up. Therefore after almost a year of complicated meetings with EU presidency countries Sweden and Spain, the European Commission, we have succeeded to find an agreement. The total cost of the project, including its operation and maintenance, will amount to many billions of Euro. The development of the project until the year 2013 will cost for example 3.5 billion Euros and yearly operation cost will be in hundreds million of Euros.

In the end, the project will be developed by the European Commission, the European Space Agency and by other countries, which have joined the programme—for example Ukraine, Israel and South Korea. The project is governed by the administrative board that is composed from the member state representatives and the European Commission. I view it as a success that we have ensured the strong participation of member states. I have also pushed through the mechanism of joint action, which every member state can use in case there are security problems with the project. I was not satisfied that on sensitive issues like security there were proposals to vote according the Lisbon treaty, which would be unfair to the Czech Republic.

The move of the agency to Prague is prestigious. However, we should not forget that the most important impacts of the Galileo programme are the applications. Without applications the expectations of the system will not be met. For example the European Commission predicts that during the 2012-2027 period 90 billion Euros can be earned from applications. There are great opportunities for universities and companies that can participate on the implementation of the project. I believe this is one of the areas our universities should focus on, if they want to remain competitive in their research—because competition is fierce.

By Evžen Tošenovský

Tags: , , ,

Category: CONTRIBUTORS, Evžen Tošenovský