October 21, 2021 | Opening of the Galileo Competence Center

Technologies and concepts for the satellite navigation systems of the future

  • The Galileo Competence Center prepares the results of DLR research for use in the Galileo satellite navigation system.
  • Benefits for business and industry are being strengthened.
  • The next generation of satellite navigation is being readied.
  • The COMPASSO project is investigating new technologies for improved position determination on Earth.
  • Focus: Space, navigation, Earth observation, security

Using the best navigation technologies to bring the greatest benefit to their users – this is the what the Galileo Competence Center at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is working towards. Together with DLR's institutes, facilities and partners, products are being developed to ensure the continuous improvement of the European Galileo satellite navigation system. The Galileo Competence Center is now officially open.

"Global satellite navigation systems such as Galileo have developed over decades into a central element of the infrastructure of the modern world and mobile society. They will only continue to gain in importance," says Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "The Galileo Competence Center was founded to continue successfully shaping the future of satellite navigation and to promote its benefits for business and industry."

At the Galileo Competence Center, users, ground facilities and satellites are all given equal consideration. The aim is to implement future-oriented concepts and technologies for the European satellite navigation system and to contribute to the further development of Galileo.

The Galileo Competence Center plans for 150 staff

The Galileo Competence Center has been under development since 2019. There are currently 35 staff at the site in Oberpfaffenhofen and, in the future, approximately 150 people will work towards its core objectives.

"It is impossible to imagine everyday life without satellite navigation and it is the backbone of an industrial society. It enables precise positioning in air, road, rail and maritime transport and is thus the basis for automated driving and the modernisation of our transport systems," says Thomas Jarzombek, Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy. "It enables reliable timing in international communications, energy supply and bank transfer systems, as well as electronic stock exchange trading. It will also determine the establishment of universal time standards in the future. And, last but not least, many apps that we all use every day would not work without it. With Galileo, Europe has a navigation system at its disposal that is of strategic importance for its sovereignty. With quantum technologies, Galileo can realise major improvements in the measurement accuracy of distances, positions and times, and thus an enormous increase in the performance of satellite-navigation-based applications can be expected. We must modernise Europe's satellite infrastructure quickly and consistently in order to secure technological sovereignty in this field and avoid dependence on other systems. DLR’s Galileo Competence Center will make a significant contribution here."

Iodine laser clock – tested on the ISS

One of the major ongoing projects at the Galileo Competence Center is COMPASSO, which is testing optical technologies on the International Space Station (ISS). Specifically, this project involves an iodine laser clock developed at DLR, a laser terminal and an optical frequency comb. For use in space, all components must be particularly small, robust and durable. The iodine laser clock, in combination with the other components, enables a significant improvement in position determination on Earth. Further systems are in development and will be mounted on the ISS Bartolomeo platform. When these technologies have proven themselves in the test environment, they will be deployed for use on Galileo satellites.

The Robust Precise Timing Facility (RPTF) for Galileo combines the output of clocks on the ground and those on board the satellites into a common system-wide time measurement, which is continuously aligned with universal time. Accurate timekeeping that is extremely robust and can correct itself is not only important for navigation, but also for financial transactions, the energy sector and agriculture.

"Bavaria is at the heart of German aerospace research. With our planned special funding of 25 million euros, we want to ensure that this remains the case," says Bavaria's State Minister for Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy, Hubert Aiwanger. "I am convinced that this is very good investment. With these funds, new office and laboratory space will be created at the Galileo Competence Center here in Oberpfaffenhofen for research into new technologies and applications. In addition, together with the German Federal Government, we are contributing to the financing of ongoing operations. I wish all those involved in the Galileo Competence Center every success."

Scientific and technical expertise from DLR institutes and facilities

The Galileo Competence Center cooperates closely with DLR institutes and facilities, including the Institute of Communications and Navigation, the Institute of Quantum Technologies, the Institute for Software Technology, the Institute of Space Systems, the Institute of Optical Sensor Systems, the Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics and the Space Operations and Astronaut Training facility. The Galileo Competence Center draws on established scientific and technical expertise and comprehensive experience with the requirements of various user groups. Another focus is the use and promotion of quantum technologies. With its expertise, the Center will serve as a point of contact between government, researchers, industry, the European Commission and other partners.

How does satellite navigation work?

The navigation satellites continuously transmit data about their on-board time and orbital position. The receiver calculates its distance from the satellite by determining the transit time of the signal. The receiver's position is determined using signals from three satellites simultaneously. A fourth satellite is required to ensure that the receiver clock is synchronised with the satellite clocks. The satellite clocks, in turn, must be synchronised as exactly as possible with each other.

What is Galileo?

Galileo is the European satellite navigation system; it has been in operation since December 2016. It guarantees Europe unrestricted access to its own global satellite navigation system, even if other systems become unavailable or inaccurate. Galileo ensures Europe's independence from the satellite systems operated by other nations but is also capable of interoperating with those systems; the various networks are complementary. Galileo currently consists of a global network of 22 operational satellites, each flying in one of three orbital planes at an altitude of 23,000 kilometres. The civilian Galileo system provides navigation signals with a very high degree of accuracy. The satellites are operated from two control centres, one in Fucino, Italy, and the other at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen.

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Andreas Schütz

Head of Corporate Communications, DLR Spokesperson
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-2474

Bernadette Jung

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Münchener Straße 20, 82234 Weßling
Tel: +49 8153 28-2251

Prof. Dr. Felix Huber

Founding Director
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Galileo Competence Center
82234 Weßling