18/01/2017 17:18 GMT

A Critical Part Of Europe's New Satellite Navigation System Keeps Failing

Scientists aren't sure how to deal with it. 🤔

Europe’s ambitious plan for its own satellite navigation system has come a cropper.

The network, which has been up and running since December, is designed to provide a more accurate alternative to America’s GPS.

But over the last few weeks, more than nine of the satellite’s atomic clocks, which drive the signals, have failed.

The European Space Agency (ESA) must now decide whether to follow through with the rollout or pause the launch of the remaining satellites.

The system won’t reach full operational capacity until six more satellites are launched into orbit. 

Benoit Tessier / Reuters
The Russian Soyuz VS01 rocket, carrying the first two satellites of Europe's Galileo navigation system, blasts off from its launchpad at the Guiana Space Center.

Professor Jan Woerner, director general of the ESA, said: “You can say we wait until we find the solution but that means if more clocks fail we will reduce the capability of Galileo. But if we launch we will at least maintain if not increase the [capability], but we may then take the risk that a systematic problem is not considered. We are right now in this discussion about what to do.”

Engineers have already launched 18 satellites into orbit, each of which carries two rubidium and two hydrogen maser clocks. 

But three of the traditional rubidium devices have failed, while six of the more precise hydrogen devices have also stopped working.

The Galileo network was first proposed because the EU feared that if relations between Europe and the US ever broke down, the US could disable European access to GPS, a critical part of military infrastructure.