News about Magellan, NOAA, Galileo and ESRI.

Magellan Acquired by Thales

The influx of mergers in our industry continued in June with the acquisition of Magellan Corporation, Santa Clara, Calif., by Thales Group, an international defense and commercial electronics group headquartered in France. Magellan was a private but majority-owned subsidiary of Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va. According to Orbital Science’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, David W. Thompson, Magellan was sold to Thales so Orbital could refocus on “its core space technology businesses and to strengthen the company’s financial position as we aggressively seek to restore and increase value to our shareholders.”

Through the acquisition, Thales attained the products of Magellan, including its hand-held GPS receivers and vehicle navigation systems, and those of Ashtech Precision Products. Thales has taken the reigns to be one of the U.S.-based leaders in GPS equipment—and it could mean better things for GPS users.

With the leadership strength of Thales, its broader worldwide business presence and R&D synergies, Magellan’s GPS technology is expected to have greater opportunities to develop. Efforts will center on making it possible to expand the product range and develop common technology platforms to support growth in GPS-related services. The company, in fact, announced its first shipment of GPS receivers offering accuracy of better than 3 meters, around the same time as the announcement of the Thales takeover.

The precision of the GPS receivers is a jump from previous 15-meter accuracies. Magellan’s MAP 330M and 330 hand-helds now feature Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) technology that improves positioning accuracy through the receipt of corrections from the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS). Current MAP330 owners can upgrade their devices to obtain the improved level of accuracy through a free website software download.

Following the merger, Ashtech also announced the release of what they credit as the smallest, lightest and most affordable GPS survey system ever made: the new Ashtech ProMark2 Survey System. ProMark2 delivers a combination of post-processed, centimeter-level static survey capabilities with stand-alone real-time sub-3-meter reconnaissance, and navigation and mapping capabilities—all in one system. ProMark2 operates in dual modes, both navigation and survey applications—a chief concept of Thales.

From its strategic expansions over the years, the original Thomson-CSF thought its corporate identity and presentation portrayed a limitation of its true reality.

So, in December 2000, Thomson-CSF announced a change of name to Thales (Tah-less). The name, after Thales of Miletus, one of the Seven Wise Men of ancient Greece, denotes an innovative and rational, not mythological or experimental approach to the areas in which it concentrates. The Thales Group focuses on technological exchanges between military and commercial markets—its dual technology strategy.

Thales is continuing to build on positive past strengths in defense areas and other tapped arenas, such as the takeover last June of UK-based Racal, a leader in satellite-based positioning systems and DGPS signal service plans. The company has cemented its global strategy in aerospace, defense, and information technology and services.

According to an Ashtech spokesperson, all brand names and company labels of Magellan and Ashtech products will remain. Also, surveyors need not worry about technical support services for products. There are no changes to personnel foreseen, however, the company is looking to fill the position for a new CEO.

Addressing NOAA’s Needs

“The federal government’s most experienced and knowledgeable labor pool is eligible to retire by 2005. By 2005, 32 percent of NOAA’s workforce is eligible to retire.” This statement, spoken by futurist Edward D. Barlow Jr. at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Strategic Planning Workshop for its constituents on April 19, 2001, was one of a few predictions he has for tomorrow.

This meeting, the fifth of its kind, is the first that focused on long term planning for NOAA instead of short term planning, according to Margaret McCalla, acting director of NOAA’s policy and strategic planning office. The workshop provided a forum for constituents (primarily customers and partners) and NOAA employees to voice suggestions, criticisms and overall input on various aspects of NOAA’s future.

The workshop was divided into seven core themes: Weather, climate, marine transportation, fisheries, coastal and ocean habitat and environment, protected species and places, and NOAA employees. Each group of eight people answered questions as to what NOAA should focus on in the future, what products NOAA should emphasize and what community/market sector actions will impact NOAA. There were about 475 participants at the workshop.

NOAA was given suggestions from the forum groups on ways to improve the organization itself. Suggestions included: improving relations with the private sector; increasing marketing and visibility; and strengthening interagency cooperation. Participants further suggested coordinating with other agencies more (specifically the private sector) and doing an internal review to develop a clear mission to aid in educating Congress.

With the impact of technology and globalization, the major coastal and environmental needs voiced focused on access to real-time, comprehensive and national information. Another key NOAA factor is to get the information out to relevant users.

The constituent group voiced various concerns that NOAA needs to focus on for the marine sector in the next five to 10 years. Main points mentioned were: completing the hydrographic backlog and getting back to NOAA’s core mission of supporting navigation services; describing and predicting changes in the Earth’s environment, and conserving and managing wisely the Nation’s coastal and marine resources to ensure sustainable economic opportunities. The group mentioned that a big demographic shift (retired people) of boating and coastal demands will have an impact on NOAA’s mission in the upcoming years. Constituents also stated that a spatially referenced data system (national spatial data infrastructure) needs to be emphasized in the upcoming years for multiple uses.

The information from the workshop should give NOAA guidance and focus to complete the important and complex tasks that lay before it. The NOAA vision presents a challenge for the future: For the year 2005, NOAA envisions a world in which societal and economic decisions are coupled strongly with a comprehensive understanding of the environment.

The complete report of the workshop proceedings is available on the NOAA website at

The Race is On with Galileo

After many delays from its initial plan, the European Galileo satellite navigation system, also known as the Galileo project, looks more likely than ever to launch. Europeans may soon be declaring independence from the United States and Russia.

At an April 5, 2001 meeting, the Galileo satellite navigation system was fueled by the European Union (EU) Council of Transport Ministers decision to authorize 100 million euros (approximately $90 U.S. million) from EC (European Commission) funds.

The funding of private investors jump-started the long delay of the project. This past June, 10 European companies signed a memorandum to invest 200 million euros toward the Galileo project between 2001 and 2005. The private investors include new Magellan Corp. parent, Thales, of France. In addition, the ESA will match the 100 million euros donated by the EC. The EC will launch a perspective to monitor the long-term development of private sectors involvement in the project, the commercial and public services to be provided by the project, and the revenue that these services generate.

The Galileo project, the European rival to the U.S. GPS system, will consist of 30 satellites in medium earth orbit, an extensive network of ground stations, and local and regional service centers. The satellites are projected to have a lifespan of at least 10 years. The satellites will orbit at an altitude of about 23,000 km. Their positions will be monitored by ground stations.

The satellites should be operational by 2008 with an annual maintenance fee of 200 million euros. The project is estimated to cost 3.25 billion euros ($2.9 U.S. billion) and will be funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), the EU and private investors. It is estimated that at least half of the expense will be paid by the latter. Last year, the Trans-European Network (TEN) conducted a cost/benefit analysis of Galileo that estimated overall economic benefits to Europe would reach 74 billion euros by 2020.

Galileo will not be used as a military system, according to a Commission spokesperson; its use will be entirely civilian. The United States GPS system and the Russian system, GLONASS, are currently under military control. Galileo will be used by transport authorities, companies and utilities requiring precise timing information, and individual users of mobile phones that use satellite navigation receivers.

Unlike the U.S. GPS system, some Europeans will need to pay for satellite use. The basic signal will be free of charge and available to all users. For those people who need more reliability and availability there will be a fee to access a data stream modulated on the basic signal. A highly secured system will be available, for a fee, for applications such as the regulation of air, sea and road transport.

The Galileo system will provide the surveying reference for roads, bridges and cities and the time reference for power and telecommunications networks. At the present time, European satellite navigation users rely on GLONASS or the U.S. GPS system for their positions.

ESRI's 21st User's Conference

GIS software giant ESRI, Redlands, Calif., held its 21st Annual User’s Conference in San Diego July 9-13, 2001. The conference theme was “Geography-Creating Communities.” Attended by over 10,000 GIS professionals from over 100 different countries (conversation in the halls sounded like the UN), plus vendor representatives and ESRI staff, the conference swelled with news, education and extracurricular activities, including a 5K walk/run, a tennis tournament and a ping-pong tournament.

The vast main exhibit floor housed almost 200 vendor booths, some stunningly elaborate. Many displays were GIS-related software packages and imaging products. Major GPS manufacturers were there in force, evidence of the impact GIS has on everything related to positioning. On the main exhibit floor, ESRI featured a “geography store,” containing a surprisingly extensive collection of maps, books and geography-oriented gadgets for sale. In addition to the usual exhibit floor area, considerable space was devoted to the Map Gallery, a collection of mapping exhibits submitted by users.

Technical sessions and paper presentations were plentiful, varied and well-attended. There were 225 technical workshops, 275 paper presentations and almost 100 Special Interest Group meetings. Session and meeting rooms often overflowed as conference participants gathered for the wide range of topics.

Several sessions were of particular interest to surveyors. All sparked lively discussions. One panel discussion focused on proposed changes to the NCEES model law for surveying licensure as it relates to GIS. POB Contributing Editor for GIS, Mike Binge, has a proposed plan to give fuller treatment of this issue in a POB future issue. Other survey-related topics included “Improving the Spatial Quality (Positional Accuracy) of GIS Data” and “Integrating Survey Data in a GIS.” Many surveyors also attended a demonstration of ESRI’s new SurveyAnalyst module for ArcGIS.

The mammoth convention would have to be considered a roaring success by any measure. The 2002 edition is already scheduled; surveyors and GIS-ers should get ready for such an informative and useful event.