Sunday, December 14, 2008

SPACE between your ears...

KOUROU, French Guiana: Not so long ago, French Guiana was etched into the public imagination as a depraved prison colony by books with titles like "Horrors of Cayenne," "Hell Beyond the Seas" and, of course, "Papillon," Henri Charrière's classic memoir of his incarceration on Devil's Island.

But now this overseas sliver of France offers something altogether different - a bit of insight into the shifting fortunes of the United States in at least one corner of the evolving world economy.

From Kourou, where 20,000 people, many of them transplanted cosmopolitans, live sandwiched between jungle and ocean, it is easy to see how much Americans, who once dominated the commercial space industry, have been reduced to just another competitor - or, worse, a partner in joint ventures with Russians - on a global field of play.
Well, that's a nice story...but let's discuss how France and the rest of the European Union does business.

Today's topic...the European satellite navigation system, Galileo.

It seems that the European Union wanted their own Global Positioning System, so the United States provided them with the technology to do so with the understanding that the encoding would be made available without charge. The European Union refused to provide the encoding when requested by Mr Psiaki, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University and co-leader of Cornell's GPS Laboratory. They regretted that decision.

Three months later he and his group of scientists had cracked the codes "just with an antenna and lots of signal processing," and with a basic algorithm to extract the codes.
"An antenna and lots of signal processing"...

"That means free access for consumers who use navigation devices," said the scientist who broke the code, Mark Psiaki, in a statement.
The following year, the EU released the final codes or what is known as the GIOVE-A Signal-in-Space Interface Control Document. If you're a cynic like me, you believe that originally they had no intention of doing so, but a bunch of American "Yahoos" at Cornell kept them honest...looks like the EU space program is leaving NASA in the dust....How did that Christmas Day 2003 Mars landing go for them? Anyone remember?