July 25, 2018. Observing a launch live is an indescribable experience. The sheer power of the boosters upon ignition literally takes your breath away. You see and hear the force of the some 30 million horse power generated by the Ariane 5. But, more than anything else, you feel it. The air around you starts vibrating, your entire body senses the power with which the rocket lifts off from the ground. I have observed many launches live in the course of my career – but they never cease to be an enormous source of fascination.
Taking on the challenges and tackling them successfully
However, the most recent launch of an Ariane 5 from the European space center in Kourou was a very special event for another reason. The launcher was carrying on board a further four satellites for the European navigation system Galileo. This brings to a total 22 satellites that have been built by OHB, placed in their orbits and are performing their services for the benefit of people all around the world. Consequently, the constellation has reached its first nominal completion, marking a significant milestone for OHB. This is the reward for a job well done by OHB employees. We faced up to the challenges posed by this task and tackled them in an exemplary way. The first major stage has now been completed. From now on, the Galileo navigation system will be achieving 100 percent worldwide coverage. In other words, you can pick up a signal anywhere in the world.
Galileo will save many lives in the future
This has long since passed the realms of theory. The practical benefits of the system can now be directly experienced by anyone. For most of you this will primarily mean the availability of Galileo signals for the navigation and positioning system fitted to your smartphone. 17 smartphone producers – led by Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei and Sony – have already integrated Galileo; 186 million smartphones with a Galileo chipset were delivered in the second half of 2017. What is more, Volvo is equipping its V60 model with a Galileo-based emergency call system, the first automotive OEM to do so. This is because the Galileo system also features new-generation SAR (search and rescue) antennas that pick up emergency signals and allow the site of the accident to be positioned far more precisely and swiftly. In the medium term, this will enable emergency services to provide better and quicker help as they will be able to reach the victims more quickly than before. In other words, Galileo will save many lives in the future.
Europe’s decision to go ahead with Galileo is a stroke of luck given the current world situation
Given the many practical applications, it is easy to forget the original reason prompting the decision to build a European navigation system. In view of the current geopolitical situation in the world, however, it is important to realize that previously the American GPS system was the predominant worldwide positioning system. However, the system belongs to the US military, which is why the United States has repeatedly reduced civilian access in times of war in the past. It was thus with great foresight that Europe decided to establish a solely civilian navigation system to escape the risk of US military restrictions. Given the mounting global tension being caused by the policies pursued by US president Donald Trump, the European Union’s decision has proved to be very wise. This is all the more so as many applications based on the data freely provided by the system for all people without any cost will generate new business models and economic growth.
Galileo will make the world a safer and more pleasant place to live
So you see that the transportation of these four Galileo satellites marks a decisive point in European space flight, completing one of the most important satellite systems ever launched by Europe. It will provide the data and information required to develop new business models and new and better applications. This, in turn, will hopefully help to make the world a better, safer and nicer place for everyone. The fact that OHB is making a crucial contribution to this makes me incredibly proud.
Born in 1962, Marco R. Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE and OHB System AG since 2000. Marco R. Fuchs is married and has two children.