Navigating European roads

Galileo is a joint undertaking by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission (EC). It is named after Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), pioneer of the scientific view of the world as opposed to the medieval religious view of the world. An American spacecraft, named Galileo, was sent in 1989 to explore Jupiter and its moons that were first detected in 1610 by Galileo. This mission ended in 2003.

The European navigation system Galileo is intended to provide more precise measurements than those available through Global Positioning System (GPS) or Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), including the altitude position. The goal is to provide an independent positioning system upon which European nations can rely, even in times of conflict or political disagreement. As for the United States, GPS use of basic (low-accuracy) Galileo services will be free and open to everyone. However, the high-accuracy capabilities will be restricted to paying commercial users.

Galileo provides new features such as the integrity signal, informing the user whether position signals are verified as accurate. It provides guaranteed service and is fully interoperable with other navigation systems. The Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase is an intermediate step to demonstrate that the requirements can be met before complete deployment of the full system. Four In-Orbit Verification (IOV) satellites (the minimum number required to guarantee exact positioning) were completed on December 3, 2009 at the Thales Alenia Space facility in Rome. When fully deployed, Galileo will consist of a constellation of 30 satellites in three different orbits 23,000 km above the Earth.

The Ground Control Center (GCC) uses VME-based multiprocessor systems from Thales Computers (now Kontron), consisting of approximately 180 high-performance dual core 6U VME CPU boards in 21 fully integrated and tested systems. By the time this European infrastructure launches into full operation, Kontron will have delivered the equivalent of 26 teraflops of peak processing power in the Orbit Synchronization and Processing Facility (OSPF) and the Integrity Processing Facility (IPF). Integrity information makes Galileo suitable for Safety-of-Life (SoL) applications. The continuous stream of information from the satellites requires teraflop processing power on a reliable system using atomic clocks in the picosecond range (10-12).

There are two OSPF systems in each GCC using 11 Kontron PENTXM2 VME CPU boards with dual-core Intel Xeon processors and memory with a peak bandwidth of 3.2 GBps on each channel. There are three IPF systems, each with five Kontron PENTXM2 boards, in each GCC. The output of each OSPF and IPF in a GCC is transmitted to a redundant group of Message Generation Facilities (MGFs) that consists of three systems, each with three Kontron PENTXM2 boards. For system and stress test applications, Kontron developed extensive Linux software. Kontron will also manage EU certification for the OSPF and IPF for Thales Alenia Space. VMEbus was selected because it is an ANSI standard and will be around well into the future as required for Galileo, which is scheduled to move into full commercial operation in 2013.

In previous years, I have been an observer when a Zeppelin was used to test signal reflections between high-rise buildings. The measurements were done on a very large railway marshalling yard, which emulates a Faraday cage with lots of metal on the ground, metallic masts, and a wire mesh above as  shown in Figure 1. The test results were positive. This proof of signal quality is required to guarantee SoL service not only for rescue teams, but also for truck fleet management and other commercial uses.

Figure 1: Fully equipped testing vehicle for signal strength testing in a Faraday cage environment on a very large railway marshalling yard, photo courtesy of Technical Consulting


European events

SPS/IPC/DRIVES in Nuernberg, Germany (November 24-26) is the world’s largest event for industrial automation. More than 1,200 exhibitors attracted about 48,595 visitors to see some innovative products, including VME-based products. There were more visitors than last year despite year-end budget restrictions on company travel. 

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