Europe’s satellite navigation system, Galileo, is suffering a major outage since July 11, nearing 100 hours of downtime, due to a “technical incident related to its ground infrastructure”, according to the European GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) Agency or GSA.
Funded by the EU, the Galileo program went live with initial services in December 2016 after 17 years of development. This program was launched to avoid the EU’s reliance on the US Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) for commercial, military and other applications like guiding aircraft, and also on Russian government’s GLONASS. The Galileo satellite network is presently being used by satnavs, financial institutions and more. It provides both free and commercial offerings and is widely used by government agencies and private companies for navigation and search and rescue operations.
GSA’s service status page highlights that 24 of the 26 Galileo satellites are listed as “not usable,” while the other two are listing the status of “testing”.
The outage means the satellites may not be able to provide timing or positioning data to smartphones or other devices in Europe that use the system. According to BBC, all of the affected users will hardly notice the outage as their devices “will be relying instead on the data coming from the American Global Positioning System (GPS). They will also depend on the sat-nav chip they have installed, cell phones and other devices might also be making connections with the Russian (Glonass) and Chinese (Beidou) networks”.
On July 11, the GSA released an advisory notifying users that the Galileo satellite signals “may not be available nor meet the minimum performance levels”. They also warned users that these systems “should be employed at users’ own risk”.
On Saturday, July 13, the GSA warned users Another stern warning by the GSA said the Galileo was experiencing a full-service outage and that “signals are not to be used.”
On July 14, GSA said the outage affected only the Galileo navigational and satellite-based timing services. However, “the Galileo Search and Rescue (SAR) service — used for locating and helping people in distress situations for example at sea or mountains — is unaffected and remains operational.”
“Experts are working to restore the situation as soon as possible. An Anomaly Review Board has been immediately set up to analyze the exact root cause and to implement recovery actions”, GSA added.
“Galileo is still in a roll-out, or pilot phase, meaning it would not yet be expected to lead critical applications”, BBC reports.
A GSA spokesperson told BBC News, “People should remember that we are still in the ‘initial services’ phase; we’re not in full operation yet”.
However, according to Inside GNSS, a specialist sat-nav site, the problem may be with the Precise Timing Facility(PTF), a ground station in Italy that gives each satellite in the system an accurate time reference. “time has an impact on the whole constellation!”, Inside GNSS adds.
According to ZDNet, “The downtime also comes after widespread GPS outages were reported across Israel, Iran, Iraq, and Syria at the end of June. Israeli media blamed the downtime on Russian interference, rather than a technical problem”.
… it will be interesting to learn what the detailed cause of the problem is, once they fix it. And how they plan to avoid such outages when formally operational.
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 15, 2019
…one thing the current, and ongoing, #Galileo outage illustrates is all those post-apocalypse movies and books that have the heroes using #GPS for navigation in a zombie🧟 filled world are missing something rather crucial. Our satellite constellations are fragile.
— Alasdair Allan (@aallan) July 14, 2019
Current @GalileoGNSS positioning service availability should be 77% over 30 days, allowing a week downtime. Timing services availability is only 94 hours downtime. After this is breached at UTC 22:36 tonight, Galileo might be officially in trouble.https://t.co/DX7w4A8IUr pic.twitter.com/6IAu2Et7kQ
— Leo_Bodnar (@LeoBodnar) July 14, 2019
To know more about this news in detail, head over to Europe GSA’s official blog post.