Education drives innovation in satellite navigation sector

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16 April 2010

With the huge increase in interest in new global navigation satellite system (GNSS) applications it is vital that the education system provides the engineers and entrepreneurs who can leverage the opportunities offered by EGNOS and Galileo.

A special session held 3 March during Galileo Application Days brought together GNSS educators, students and other stakeholders to debate the issues and discuss some significant new developments in education. Reinhard Blasi, European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) Project Officer in charge of the G-Train project, welcomed the audience and opened the session..

 “The scope of the session is to promote the relevance of GNSS education, stressing how high quality GNSS training is a driver for innovation, an enhancement for companies’ competitiveness and a valuable opportunity for international cooperation,” said Fabio Dovis of the Politecnico di Torino, part of the G-TRAIN project consortium that organised the session.

G-TRAIN is coming

G-TRAIN received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). The project is developing a framework for satellite navigation programmes for Europe’s universities and other educational institutions.

A previous project, called Education, Research, Innovation in GNSS (ERIG), had benchmarked the EU’s educational activities in satellite navigation against the rest of the world. The results were presented by Baerbel Deisting of the Universitaet der Bundeswehr in Munich – a G-TRAIN partner.

“ERIG identified the ‘how and where’ for GNSS specific training in Europe,” explained Deisting. Although the data showed that there were lots of GNSS courses in Europe compared to North America and the Pacific Rim countries, some significant differences were highlighted. These include a relative lack of training for professionals and less doctorial-level students in the field in Europe.

ERIG made five key recommendations for education: develop a strong visionary coordinating structure for GNSS education in Europe; create a ‘Sat-Nav’ university network; establish joint European degree courses; boost GNSS professional training; and support doctorial students working in GNSS-relevant areas.

GNSS Masters

Olivier Julien of G-Train partner L’ École Nationale de L’Aviation Civile (ENAC) outlined recent actions to implement ERIG’s recommendations in Europe. These included the establishment of a joint Master of Science course across all G-Train educational institutions led by ENAC in Toulouse.

“This two-year course will be taught in English and focus on fundamental techniques – from engineering to marketing. The first students will start the course in September 2011,” said Julien.
G-TRAIN is also providing support to the Politecnico di Torino for a course that results in a Specialising Master in Navigation and Related Applications degree. “This is a one-year specialising masters that includes three months in industry and is mainly aimed at professionals,” said Julien.

In terms of boosting the number of PhDs, G-TRAIN is looking at providing grants and at increasing networking opportunities for graduate students in the EU. G-TRAIN is also starting work on creating the proposed Sat-Nav’ university network as a means of linking European providers of GNSS education and of increasing their cooperation with industry.

Young researchers in GNSS

The view from a young researcher’s perspective was given by Matteo Vannucchi from Politecnico di Torino. He spoke on behalf of Stephanie Wan of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC).
SGAC was founded in the framework of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and is based at the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna. SGAC has effectively created a global volunteer base of advanced students and young academics working in the space sector.

“Its main aim is to encourage and improve education in space-related curriculum and to try to connect students and young people with space organisations and NGOs,” said Vannucchi. Amongst other initiatives, SGAC is working to create a wiki-portal for education and training online resources in the sector.

University Challenge

Ulrike Daniels, part of the business development team at Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), the managing organisation of the European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC), introduced the University Challenge special topic prize at the session.

University Challenge is being launched for this year’s competition as a means of boosting student interest in satellite navigation.
 “The number of participants in ESNC has increased rapidly and the majority of entries come from start-up companies and SMEs,” explained Daniels. “But we also want more student involvement so the University Challenge has been developed.”

“The objective is to reach out to any young researcher dealing with potential GNSS applications,” continued Daniels. “The idea is to have a competition that allows students to compete with other students rather than with large companies.”

For the University Challenge prize, the competition’s judges will focus on the creativity and market needs rather than on an entry’s technological perfection. The prize is ten days of coaching with a member of the EU-funded KIS4SAT (Knowledge Intensive Services for Satellite Applications) consortium. The prize aims to help the prize winner bring their business idea to reality.

Stefan Zhelyazkov, a student at Leiden University, described his experience of becoming a regional winner in ESNC 2009. “I was a student winner in 2009 even though it was not a student competition!” said Zhelyazkov.

His winning Snowmate project has developed a winter sports safety beacon that allows users to share their location with their ski buddies. Winning brought some great benefits. “The opportunity of obtaining a business consultancy with Logica was both very motivating and valuable,” said Zhelyazkov. “It really helped the development of the concept, which is now almost ready for market.”

How, when and what

The session concluded with a panel discussion among four education experts. Javier Ventura-Traveset of the European Space Agency (ESA) covered the value of GNSS education and ESA policy. “Education is an absolute ‘must’ and ESA is convinced of that,” he stated.

Daniel Ludwig of DL Consulting looked at education and international activities. For him a key factor was to expand the links. “It is necessary to bring together academics and the industrial world to support innovation,” Ludwig said. “And this should not be restricted to just within the EU but also should include third countries – it must be a global effort.”

Michael Bousquet of the Institut supérieur de l’aéronautique et de l’espace (ISAE – another G-TRAIN partner) talked about the main issues with current university offerings. “There is a need to find a match between the market and industry and academic and student interests,” he said. In particular there was a need to motivate primary school pupils in technical subjects.

Paolo Mulassano from G-TRAIN partner Instituto Superiore Mario Boella looked at professional training needs and stressed practical inputs. “Some tools are already available – developed by ESA or other institutions, free of charge,” he explained. “Perhaps more marketing of the opportunity is needed here – in particular a push for more on training for new features to highlight the innovation available.”

Concluding the session, Fabio Dovis stated that the ideas and recommendations discussed with the panel and in the wider session would be collated and published.

Galileo Application Days

Galileo Application Days, 3-5 March, kicked off this year’s European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC). Live demonstrations of cutting-edge satellite navigation applications using EGNOS and Galileo were held at the event’s ‘Application Village’.

The event was hosted by the European Commission and was organised by the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) and the Application Centre for Satellite Navigation in Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), the managing organisation for ESNC (Galileo Masters).

Galileo is scheduled to become operational in 2014. Fully interoperable with the USA’s GPS and Russia's GLONASS systems, it will provide highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning services.
EGNOS is Europe’s ‘pre- Galileo' system. It improves the accuracy of the open public service offered by GPS.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you do republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the GSA Web site (

More information:

Galileo Application Days
ESNC University Challenge
EGNOS Portal
European GNSS Supervisory Authority: Galileo

Updated: Mar 26, 2014