Science

Spaniard wins European Inventor Award for work on satellite navigation

José Ángel Ávila and team recognized for work on European rival to US GPS system

Spanish scientist José Ángel Ávila and his team have been given a European Inventor Award for research on signaling technology that will improve the functioning of the European Space Agency’s global navigation satellite system (GNSS), better known as Galileo – a project that will provide greater accuracy than the satellite navigation service provided by the US-operated GPS system.

José Ángel Ávila (left) and Laurent Lestarquit with a model of Galileo.
José Ángel Ávila (left) and Laurent Lestarquit with a model of Galileo.EPO

“The team’s contribution of modulation and spread-spectrum signal technologies forms one of the joint European satellite positioning system’s core components, delivering signals that enhance accuracy, save on satellite power and ensure interoperability with [the Russian version of GPS] GLONASS and the current GPS and its possible upgrades,” said prize organizer the European Patent Office of its decision to give the award to Ávila and his team.

Galileo shows us what we are capable of when we work together in Europe José Ángel Ávila

“Galileo is a fundamental contribution to the progress of Europe,” said Ávila on receiving the prize. His team has developed two that will make it possible to establish the position of an object on Earth to within centimeters. That is a huge leap forward from current GPS technology, where precision is still measured in meters.

Ávila says that Galileo will be a huge boon for users.

“We are going to be able to use the [Galileo] navigation system in places where it hasn’t reached yet. Navigation is already part of our everyday lives. We use it every day with our smartphones,” said the engineer, who hails from Madrid.

Europe’s Galileo system offers an alternative to GPS, which is controlled by the US

“Galileo shows us what we are capable of when we work together in Europe. This is a European project and we are very proud. It should be an example,” he said, praising the work of his team, which includes researchers from France, Belgium and Germany.

Speaking to EL PAÍS in 2013, Ávila explained the importance for Europe of having its own navigation system. “Although we may not be aware of it, our financial and banking networks, as well as our strategic infrastructure, including transport, energy and communications depends to a large degree on the GPS system of the United States. If this system collapses or for strategic reasons the United States deactivates it or lowers the quality, the consequences will be catastrophic. We need to depend on [the US system] less and less and we are managing that,” he said.

Galileo currently has 18 of 30 satellites in orbit and began providing services in December 2016, but the system won’t be fully operational until 2020.

English version by George Mills.

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