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Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, where to go? Navigation satellite signals flip from degraded to full TITSUP* over span of four days

*Timing Is Terrible Say Users Plaintively

The multibillion-euro navigation system Galileo went dark over the weekend.

Things began to wobble last Thursday, 11 July, as the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (EGSA) issued an advisory at 14:45 UTC warning of "service degradation".

At the time, sat-nav mag Inside GNSS reported that sources within the agency reckoned things would be back to normal over the weekend.

Unless normal service equals "borked beyond belief", things went downhill rapidly as a subsequent advisory issued on Saturday upped the designation to "service outage", noting that the event, which affects all satellites, actually started at 01:50 UTC on 12 July.

Galileo boffins remain tight-lipped as to what has actually happened, saying only that the system "is currently affected by a technical incident related to its ground infrastructure".

While the Galileo Search and Rescue service remains up and running, the navigation and timing aspect is not functional. The constellation has been running in a "pilot" phase since December 2016 as engineers shake out technical issues before declaring things operational.

This is quite the technical issue.

The "initial services" phase has stretched out a bit, to the point where a UK defence insider expressed surprise to The Register that the constellation was actually doing anything.

Certainly, day-to-day users are unlikely to have noticed much difference as their devices will work just as happily with the US take on navigation, GPS. Of course, GPS has had problems of its own.

It's all a bit embarrassing. Galileo was supposed to remove Europe's dependency on American largesse. The first experimental satellite went up in 2005 and right now there are 22 satellites in orbit and operational, with an additional two still in testing having been launched into the wrong orbits (and later moved).

Man feels someone else's pain

Blighty: We spent £1bn on Galileo and all we got was this lousy T-shirt


Two more satellites are due for launch next year.

The problem appears to be related to a facility on the ground that generates the time used by the satellites to provide position information. The satellites themselves have their own clocks, but there have a been a number of issues with some of those on orbit. Those should be synchronised with ground-based atomic clocks, and without that synchronisation any location data would be unreliable.

While EGSA scrambles to solve the problem and provide an explanation, those in the UK seeking to build their own Brexit Satellite will be rubbing their hands with glee. Another insider, who wished to remain anonymous, told El Reg: "The jingoists will be enjoying this one!"

Indeed, having spanked the best part of £1bn on Galileo over a decade or more, Blighty announced plans to go it alone last year.

The prolonged outage will not have helped the case of those seeking a deal to use the encrypted signals from the constellation in a post-Brexit world.

It will, however, have fired up others anxious to either launch something emblazoned with British colours into the void or cosy up with the US and their functioning system.

And in terms of timing-you-could-not-make-up, we present the last emission from Galileo's social media orifice:

One member of the knowledgeable and ever-helpful Reg readership, Andrew Dancy, offered some technical support to the stricken sats, suggesting engineers "turn it off and on again".

We've passed it on. ®

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