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Europe’s Galileo GPS-type constellation was back up and running on July 18, though it remains unclear exactly what caused the failure in both of its ground facilities.
Officials have only provided this tantalizing hint:
“The technical incident originated by an equipment malfunction in the Galileo control centers that calculate time and orbit predictions, and which are used to compute the navigation message,” the GSA wrote on Thursday in its most specific statement yet. “The malfunction affected different elements on both centers.”
That generally confirms what researchers who use the Galileo system had noticed independently. Satellites transmit packages of data to Earth that convey a set of astronomical positioning and timing data, used to compute satellite orbits and positions. But some combination of errors in the Galileo processing system led it to base these calculations on the wrong date, for example, using July 11 time stamps—the day the outage began—throughout the week. Eventually, the system even interpreted this data as referring to July 18, instead of the previous Thursday. The frozen time stamp seemed to be a symptom of problems with the ground-based processing system, rather than the satellites themselves.
This sure sounds like a computer hack that took down the systems at both facilities, suggesting that the security of Europe’s Galileo system has some very big holes.