Julian Moxon/PARIS

Russia has made an unprecedented offer to Europe to share control of its Glonass global navigation satellite system (GNSS) as part of a deal to co-operate on the development and operation of the second generation GNSS-2.

Anatoli Chilov, chief adviser to the Russian RKA civil aviation authority, previously responsible for the Glonass at the defence ministry, says that, despite the need to preserve an "essential function" for the Russian military, "-we have agreed on the principle of shared control. We must now define, line by line, how our mutual requirements can be met."

The offer follows the USA's confirmation that it will not share control of its global positioning system, or planned developments, due to the system's continuing military role. But Mike Shaw, of the US Department of Defense, says that the USA is prepared to "-consider developing a complementary GNSS-2 system", which would be interoperable with that of Europe.

At the GNSS 98 conference held in Toulouse, France, from 20-23 October, European Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock welcomed Chilov's offer as a "natural opportunity" for European-Russian co-development of a GNSS-2. But he warned that "-we must take into account the economic and political situation in Russia".

The European Commission's GNSS Forum is preparing a range of technical options for a decision on how Europe will proceed with the GNSS-2. Its findings will be presented to the European Union (EU) early next year for what Kinnock says is an "-absolutely crucial decision on whether Europe takes an active role in satellite navigation". Meanwhile, he points to continued "lassitude and indecision in some quarters, adding that European development of an independent system would present an "-unrepeatable opportunity to take advantage of a $50 billion global market".

Chilov reveals that the Glonass system has just 12 operational satellites in orbit out of the 24 originally launched, with a further three on "technical standby". This could be reduced to nine if there is no launch soon, although he says: "We have the Proton launcher, the launch site and the satellites ready and paid for. Only a small extra amount is needed to launch them, and we believe the government is ready to support that."

He proposes a three-phase programme for European involvement in the GNSS-2, starting with the integration of the impending European GNSS-1 system (the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System) into the Glonass, coupled with EU financial and technical support for the existing system. Russia and the EU would co-operate on development of the improved Glonass M2, to enter service in early 2001, followed by joint development of a new GNSS-2 for service entry in 2005 under EU/Russian control.

Kinnock stresses that the offer is only one of "several" under study. He says the USA has agreed that the development of an additional global system "-could serve as a backup for security on both directions. There would be considerable mutual advantage in ensuring compatibility between the two."

A symposium source said the cost of an independent European GNSS-2 system based on either of the two possibilities under study - low orbit and medium orbit - would be "in the general area of ECU1 billion [$1.2 billion]".

Source: Flight International