During 4 days, the 24 satellites of the European navigation system stayed silent without any precise explanation.
Generalized bug or cyber attack? Thursday, July 11, the European satellite navigation system unexpectedly ceased to function, thus interrupting the initial service launched in December 2016.
The GSA (European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency) in charge of the Galileo system — decentralized since 2012 in Prague, Check Republic, first emitted at 11:45 (UTC) a laconic information note to the users (Notice Advisory to Galileo Users - NAGU n°2019025) which specified: “Until further notice, users may experience service degradation on all Galileo satellites. This means that the signals may not be available nor meet the minimum performance levels defined in the service definition documents and should be employed at users’ own risk. The nominal service will be resumed as soon as possible.”
Saturday, July 13, two more notes were broadcasted confirming the generalized breakdown (“The navigation messages for all satellites are expired since 01:50 (UTC) on 12/07/2019”) following “a technical incident in the Galileo ground infrastructure”. They encouraged to dispense with the navigation system: “Until further notice, users experience a service outage. The signals are not to be used.” Only the emergency service SAR (Search and Rescue) is still operational.
Eventually, Sunday, July 14, the GSA ensured: “Experts are working to restore the situation as soon as possible. An Anomaly Review Board has been immediately set up to analyse the exact root cause and to implement recovery actions.”
The Fucino center at the heart of the problem.
The breakdown should come from Galileo control center (GCC), one of the system’s key center, inaugurated in December 2010 at Fucino, in Abruzzo region, Italy.
The GCC is responsible for all the navigation services provided by Galileo. It is supposed to generate, transmit and broadcast the navigation signal, ensuring its integrity, its quality and precision. Moreover, it has to maintain the clocks on board the satellites’ constellation synchronized with Galileo’s general system (Precise Timing Facility).
A very serious setback for the future competitor of the American’s GPS and European sovereignty tool, already victim of various woes and mess since its painful launch in 2001 (delays, cost overruns, elements incorrectly positioned, internal clock failures…)