Galileo Satellite Constellation

The Next Big Thing in GNSS?

Galileo Satellite Constellation

The rate of new technology development and deployment in Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) equipment has been amazing in the last few years.  It was only 2012 when the first iOS Bluetooth sub-meter GNSS receiver became available, and today there are Bluetooth sub-meter options from four different manufacturers, plus multiple RTK receivers on the market for real-time centimeter accuracy (no post-processing!!).  There are at least two more new models expected to debut later summer 2016.  While that is exciting, the more exciting late-summer development is the activation of Europe’s Galileo satellite constellation after nearly 13 years of development.

The Galileo system will have all brand new cutting-edge satellites technologically comparable to the U.S. GPS satellites and expectedly more reliable than the Russian Glonass satellites.  But the best part is that the Galileo satellites will be able to add more available satellites to receivers capable of tracking more than two constellations simultaneously.

According to the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency, the Galileo satellite constellation will have:

  • Interoperability with GPS (U.S.)
  • Anyone anywhere in the world will have access to Galileo with the appropriate receiver
  • Full operational compatibility will be 30 satellites in orbit by 2020; currently 9 in orbit
  • There will be at least 4 satellites in view to users worldwide; 6 – 8 satellites in most locations
  • Orbits to ensure better coverage of polar latitudes than the GPS constellation

Having another satellite constellation with a projected 30 operational satellites in Galileo is impressive.  The U.S. GPS constellation is currently 31 operational satellites and the Russian Glonass constellation is about 24 operational satellites.

So what does the availability of Galileo mean for your GNSS receiver? 

Well, that remains to be seen until we can fully test it, but in theory, adding Galileo will be beneficial if your receiver can access it.  Most Bluetooth receivers are either locked into work only with GPS and Glonass, or they allow the user to choose which two maximum constellations they want to access simultaneously.  However, some Bluetooth receivers like the Arrow series from EOS, will allow users to select 3 satellite constellations simultaneously.  In a couple years, we would expect most GNSS receivers on the market to have the capability to access all the satellite constellations simultaneously, but we aren’t quite there yet.

For North American users, we will want to continue using GPS and Glonass as our default constellations just as always.  But for those users with equipment that can load 3 constellations simultaneously, then by adding Galileo to GPS and Glonass means those receivers should perform better than receivers that can only use GPS and Glonass.  The same can be said for Arrow receivers currently accessing GPS, Glonass, and the Chinese Beidou because there is usually only 1 Beidou satellite at a time available in North America.  By adding Galileo, users will add 4 - 6 satellites (maybe more by 2020) on top of the GPS (about 9 visible at a time) and Glonass (about 6 visible at a time) satellites already visible at any given time with to today’s receivers.


What will adding Galileo satellites get me?  

In theory, it should:

    • A more robust solution in difficult environments (woodlands, canyons, dense urban areas “urban canyons”, etc.).
    • Better accuracy in difficult environments; especially urban canyons where tall buildings block and reflect satellite signals1
    • Galileo will also help augment those random days where the Glonass constellation goes offline; as it randomly does.

So for people looking to upgrade their GNSS receivers in the near future, I highly recommend researching the models capable of utilizing at least 3 satellite constellations simultaneously and ones that will support the Galileo constellation.

Contact us and we can help you explore the GNSS option that best fit your needs.


Multi-constellation GNSS Performance Evaluation for Urban Canyons Using Large Virtual Reality City Models