Space

Managing the complexity of the world’s largest satellite navigation system

Today Spaceopal is a well-established reality. How would you describe your company?

Marco Folino, Spaceopal CEO

Spaceopal is a joint venture between Telespazio and DLR-GfR. Founded in 2010, it is the prime contractor for the operational services of the European Satellite Navigation System Galileo and, therefore, is one of the largest satellite service operators in the world. Today we operate and maintain, with full end to end responsibility, the Galileo System providing navigation services, enhancing position, and precise timing for more than 3 billion users worldwide.

Galileo, today, is considered the best navigation system in the world allowing users to know their exact position with greater precision compared to what is provided by other available systems. What are the ingredients behind this success story?

I think there are many. First, the clear and firm strategic decision made at European level many years ago. Key is also the support, commitment and level of funding provided by the member states across the entire program lifecycle. And obviously cooperation and partnership among Institutions (EC, ESA, EUSPA) and industries, was another important factor, leading to have a well-designed and technology driven system and to a contractual scheme entrusted for service to the operator, Spaceopal, having the end-to-end responsibilities of our services. Such approach proved to be extremely solid and resilient, especially during the last couple of years where, despite the COVID pandemic and the international crisis, the Galileo navigation performances and related user experienced services were not affected or degraded at all.

Do you think it could be a model for the future?

Yes. Based on the extraordinary results achieved so far, I really believe this approach should be considered as a best practice in managing complex critical European Infrastructures even providing further advantages when applied to the future Galileo evolutions and in particular to the upcoming second generation and other EC programmes to come.

Spaceopal is a 360 degrees service operator and takes part in all the stages of the lifecycle of the system, with proactive roles also in the engineering and evolution of the system itself. 

Galileo is “easy” for users. Most of them don’t even know it is in their phone and help them every day. But all this comes from a huge complexity and you, as Spaceopal, are the people managing it. Could you tell us more?

To give an idea of the complexity of the Galileo system, let consider we have an infrastructure composed by 28 Satellites in orbit, two Control Centers (Fucino in Italy and Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany), one Service Center in Madrid (Spain) and many remote sites distributed worldwide to serve more than 3 billion users worldwide. Hundreds of highly skilled and professional staff are involved, thousands of operational procedures have been designed and implemented, specific Business and Service Continuity Plans have been developed, and are in force not only to execute the nominal operations but also to cope with not nominal ones mitigating the related risks and ensuring the continuity and the quality of the service as needed.

Galileo High Accuracy Service is on its way. What is it and what new possibilities will it allow?

High-accuracy means particular precision of the positioning services: a generic statement that we can instantiate concretely by adding the concept that Galileo High Accuracy Services (HAS)  allow users to achieve sub-decimetre level position­ing accuracy and an order improved timing accuracies required by professional applications such as precision farming, surveying as well as some emerging applications like autonomous driving and drones.

The status of HA in Europe is today at the “Initial Services” since end of January 2023.  Apart of European Initiative, Spaceopal pursues complementarily its NAVCAST service, providing finest correction data and tuned receiver products and applications for the different market applications. By the next months the NAVCAST system and its infrastructure will continue to grow with the perspective to  provide even further increased performance thanks to the reference station network and ionospheric/atmospheric corrections is already under development to support PPP RTK solutions.  It means that all the mentioned application domains will count on a really big step ahead of our NAVCAST service.

As Navigation Service Operator, what is the contribution of Spaceopal?

Spaceopal is a 360 degrees service operator and takes part in all the stages of the lifecycle of the system, with proactive roles also in the engineering and evolution of the system itself.  In this sense, our contribute has been since the concept of the HA and its realization, to ensure full support during the infrastructure realization and ensuring service continuity during the transitions. During the whole period we have been also proposing improvements and took part to engineering boards, offering our experience of operator and our visibility of the processes, to implement solid pillars for a stable and trustable high accuracy service. It worth to mention that Spaceopal has been tasked by the EUSPA to develop the reference PPP algorithm for the Galileo High Accuracy Service as well as the first fully validated user terminals providing extraordinary performances.

What is your idea of innovation and what areas are you focusing on in the near future?

The investments paid on such a complex and enormous system such it is a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), could make someone think about its relatively stable and definite deployment and a consequent marginal of slow evolution, in comparison with other space systems. It is exactly the opposite case. A GNSS system is constantly and rapidly evolving.

Companies with a leading role in this domain, such as Spaceopal, need to have very clear this concept to remain influent and reliable stakeholder. For this reason Spaceopal is dedicated to GNSS innovation, research and development on different aspects of the domain, including downstream applications and to migrate these into real services and products.

After the ESA Ministerial that just passed, what are the European scenarios in which you feel you can compete?

Our company has the privilege to be one of the main stakeholder around the European institutions, offering important industrial contribution to the Galileo Programme.  We have earned a remarkable and formidable perspective of the system behavior playing the role we inherit and beyond. With the strength of the matured experience and with the support of our shareholders, I think we can state that today we can play important roles also in other aspect of the project in view of the transition to the Second Generation of the system as well as in future navigation: engineering, infrastructure and operations.

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