US scientists crack secret GPS codes for Galileo, the European GPS satellite navigation system
12th July 2006
Secret codes used by the forthcoming European satellite navigation system, Galileo, have been uncovered by American scientists, casting disbelief on European Union promises that the £2.3 billion project will be paid back through commercial fees.
American Scientist Prof Mark Psiaki of Cornell University said that by using a dish on a laboratory roof his team had discovered how to crack codes on data being beamed down by a prototype satellite orbiting Earth.
This revelation has potentially devastating consequences for the European Union which wants to charge high-tech firms "licence fees" to access that same navigational data, before they can make and sell compatible GPS navigation devices to the public.
The scientists' success in cracking the Galileo codes just by watching the skies means that future users of the European satellite navigation system will not have to ask the EU for the codes and may be able to refuse to pay the EU for the use of the satellite navigation system, Prof Psiaki said.
Galileo was organized as a European rival to America's military-controlled GPS system, whose GPS signals are free for use worldwide.
Galileo's founders boasted that it would be more accurate than GPS and so people would want to pay to use it.
Galileo is planned to pay for itself by making several services available, from a basic satellite navigation signal for use by the public to highly encrypted satellite navigation signals for governments and armed forces. The EU intends to charge companies making Galileo-compatible navigation devices and commercial users needing more accurate data, such as shipping lines or road charging schemes.
The European Commission said that Cornell's success in cracking codes for the GPS prototype was irrelevant, as final codes for the Galileo navigation system would not only be different, but would be made available by the EU.
However, Prof Psiaki said: "Any manufacturer can now figure out the open source access codes for themselves."
Galileo, due to be in operation by 2010, is a joint venture between the European Commission, the European Space Agency and private investors including an arm of the Chinese state.