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Galileo redux

If you’re going to bet, then always bet on a sure thing. Modest gains made on short odds are generally preferable to the large losses threatened by longer odds. It is with that philopsophy in mind that I comment upon the boondoggles of Brussels. I never expect anything good to emerge from the EU and I am seldom disappointed.

Back in April of this fast-fading year, I passed a few less-than-enthusiastic comments upon the EU plans for the launch of a European GPS system called ‘Galileo’ and during the course of which I made it clear that it might cause some transatlantic friction:

“There is some small chink of light at the end of this particular worm-hole, though. The US government has expressed concern that should Galileo become operational it could be used by terrorist cells to plan attacks on the US. Now, personally, I think that the Americans, the Russians, the Indians, the Israelis, the Australians, the Japanese and just about everybody else will have functioning colonies on Mars before that happens, but, in the event that it does, the US just might find itself in a position where they have to shoot the bloody thing out of the sky (chortle, snigger, stuff handkerchief in mouth). What a tragedy!!”

Now, there are some people who would charge that my cynicism is merely a reflection of my personal prejudice and they would be quite right. However, an article published in a US web-zine called ‘Space Equity’ has given me cause to believe that I might have been quite prescient. The article in question was published in October which renders it archaeological in blog terms but that didn’t prevent it from slapping me around the head like a wet sock:

“It is now evident that by reserving a frequency in close proximity to the frequency used by code M, the Europeans have put themselves in a position to veto the effective use of GPS by America’s armed forces. They believe that once they have begun transmitting on this frequency, the US will have no choice but to ask their permission before conducting any GPS supported military operations. This, in effect, means all US operations anywhere in the world. For example, in case of a North Korean attack, the US would have to ask the EU for permission before it could begin flying close air support missions against invading North Korean troops . This would give the EU enormous leverage whenever the EU wanted the US to concede something in the Middle East or elsewhere.”

Voila! Of course, I also postulated that ‘Galileo’ would prove to be nothing except a Eurocratic wet-dream, so perhaps the brass hats in the Pentagon should cool their heels. For now.

[My thanks to James C. Bennett for the link]

11 comments to Galileo redux

  • The cheeses me off just a bit. The entire GPS enterprise was started by the US military and then essentially, given by the US to the world for peaceful use because they rocognized that its value was too great to use for military purposes only.

    Now the EU comes along to muck things up just to prove to themselves that they’re still relevant.

  • Considering the EU’s attitude and course, I consider it not impossible that we (I am an American) may end up fighting a war with them down the line. Certianly they are not “allies” or “partners” at all now. If this sattelite is used in any way to impede or interfere with our millitary, then it’s toast. But I wonder if the EUnichs consider the seriousness of their oppositional attitude, that it could eventually lead to war? Or do they think we will turn the cheek forever? That they can abuse us endlessly with no real response?

    (None of this applies to England, of course.)

  • Dale Amon

    To set the record straight, the US government is an abysmal and untrustworthy partner in any space-related venture. Arianespace and European launch capability exists basically because some head up his arse US bureaucrat decided a remote sensing payload could not be launched on a US launcher. (If I remember the details correctly… this was a long time ago).

    Then there was Ulysses, the joint program of Europe and the USA. The US cut it’s half of the program and the only half which was launched was european, but you wouldn’t know it to hear NASA….

    And then there was the lab for the shuttle. Built and paid for in Europe and handed over to NASA in return for a couple of flights, after which NASA owned it.

    I am not in the least bit surprised that Europe wants its’ own GPS. It is a very good idea for there to be more than one so that no one State holds a monopoly.

    If the EU goes that one step farther and does active jamming though… I think that would be grounds for getting their satellites shot down. Bad move. Providing a competitive service is a very good idea. Messing with someone elses system is just plain criminal though. I seriously have my doubts they would try this.

    It’s dumb even for Brussels.

  • Bob

    The US government has expressed concern that should Galileo become operational it could be used by terrorist cells to plan attacks on the US.

    For those a little less technically inclined, there is nothing to keep any terrorist from using the current Navstar GPS system for just that purpose now. There are civilian (read cheap) receivers available now at most sporting goods stores that are accurate enough to plan almost anything needing spatial reference.

    However, I can tell you that

    the US would have to ask the EU for permission before it could begin flying close air support missions against invading North Korean troops.

    will NOT be allowed to happen.

  • Jacob

    As far as I understand the technical part (not much), it is possible to jam the GPS system from the ground, and this isn’t too difficult either; so the GPS is unreliable for military purposes.

  • Trent Telenko


    The E.U. is that dumb. Trans-European organizations just cannot execute worth a darn.

    Remember the great ESA space plane Hermes?

    The US military is under greater threat from American cell phone services buying Congressmen to reassign US military radio frequencies than it is from the E.U. and Galileo.

  • scott

    Here, here, on NASA being a worthless partner in space projects. That’s why I’m happy I here about private space ventures becoming one step closer to reality.
    BTW – your space-related reports are much appreciated the this relapsed ‘space cadet.’ They’ve truly been a spark that has rekindled a once bright interest in space travel.

  • Tony

    Background: English, despise the EU, admire the US, remember watching the moon landings and thought NASA was an amazing organisation.

    I don’t think it will come to a war. It’s highly unlikely that the money will be found for this project to continue. I agree with Dale about the way NASA has been acting – it’s just another bureaucracy now (was it really anything else?) which appears commited to preventing ordinary citizens travelling in space.

    The best bet is for private enterprise to make an impact in space and sell that capability to whoever wants it – that’s my best bet for getting into space anyhow, as there’s no way I fit into “The Right Stuff” mould (great film by the way).

  • Dale Amon

    I remember Hermes. I also remember NASP, X38, Black Horse, and with a small bit of time sitting back in my chair about a half dozen or more other State sponsorted spaceplane projects that either never got off paper or else did little more than expend tax monies. The US spent far more on over the top spaceplanes than everyone else put together.

    Unfortuneately I can also name an equal number of startup ventures which also never got anywhere… however all of them combined spent less than any one of the above and all of it was, well… private and voluntary.

    I would not be surprised if the first real spaceplane comes out of a small hanger in the Mojave from a group of real entrepreneurs who are practically doing bakesales to keep their research going and test article flying.

    I might add there was ONE government funded US program that actually did a good job: Dr. Gaubatz’s DCX project under what used to be MacDonnell Douglas Aerospace Company (MACDAC to many of us). As one pundit put it, a rocket that takes off and lands on a pillar of fire “like God and Robert Heinlein intended”.

    And of course the agencies fought hammer and tongs to kill it. You would not believe the efforts that went on behind the scenes to get the $60M and a few million add on that got the thing built in 18 months and testflying for several years… until someone had a brain fart on pre-flight that caused it to tip over *after* landing. They left a hydraulic hose off one of the landing legs. Oops… (She’s no fun, she fell right over)

  • Dale Amon

    PS: Black Horse actually would have been pretty cool but the USAF never funded it and the guy pushing it went off into private life where he’s tried getting backing to get off the ground with a test article. The key concept in it is takeoff from an airfield with only enough fuel and oxidizer to reach a tanker at altitude. After in air refueling you push the throttle to the firewall and leave the surly bonds well behind your arse.

  • Scott

    Did anyone else here about the recently succesful test of a scram-jet in Austrailia? Apparently a group of amatuers (working through a university) built one in a garage that worked better than one that had been put together by NASA.
    Okay-just googled the story, apparently it wasn’t quite as successful as first made out to be, but still interesting; and fits nicely into the NASA v. the amatuers angle.

    PS- pardon sp. mistakes, can’t think due to holiday wine.