A Scintillating Project

August 1, 2015  - By
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FIGURE 2. TEC map over São Paulo state as forecast by the CALIBRA model on Sept. 26, 2012, at 2:00 UT. The range of the TEC in the image is from 0 to 90 TEC units (blue to red). The red line is the geomagnetic equator.

FIGURE 2. TEC map over São Paulo state as forecast by the CALIBRA model on Sept. 26, 2012,
at 2:00 UT. The range of the TEC in the image is from 0 to 90 TEC units (blue to red). The red
line is the geomagnetic equator.

Countering Ionospheric Disturbances Affecting GNSS in Brazil

By Marcio Aquino

After 27 months of intense research, the CALIBRA project ended successfully in February 2015, with the project team devising solutions to tackle the effects of perturbations typical of the Brazilian ionosphere on high-accuracy GNSS positioning. CALIBRA was funded by the European Union and the European GNSS Agency.

Kicked off in 2012, CALIBRA first confirmed the vulnerability of GNSS high-accuracy techniques to ionospheric disturbances through a thorough user performance review, where degradation in GNSS Precise Point Positioning (PPP) and real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning was seen to correlate with the occurrence of ionospheric scintillation and high Total Electron Content (TEC) variability. This is especially so in Brazil, because of its geographical location extending across the magnetic equator in one of the most troublesome ionospheric regions of the Earth, qualifying the country as a test-bed for worst-case scenarios.

The team established a suitable metric to characterize these disturbances, which was used in developing the new models and algorithms to counter their effects. The short-term empirical CALIBRA Forecasting Model (CFM) for TEC and scintillation was developed and tested.

To counter scintillation, a number of approaches were proposed and their benefits demonstrated. Building on the project’s success, CALIBRA partner INGV (Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia) filed a patent for the CFM and a new spin-off company — SpacEarth Technology — was set up. SpacEarth aims to secure the software’s commercialization for potential applications and services, while also improving and adapting it to evolving market needs.

Another outcome of commercial interest is that project partner Septentrio developed several rover-level mitigation approaches, notably a new model for ionospheric delay estimation.

Monitoring Network. To support the research and operational activities of the project, a dedicated network of ionospheric scintillation monitor receivers (ISMRs) was deployed, forming the CIGALA-CALIBRA network of 12 monitoring stations equipped with PolaRxS receivers. A web interface for data analysis — the ISMR Query Tool  — was developed by project partner UNESP (São Paulo State University) and is available for public use, collecting and treating more than 10 million observations of GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou and other augmentation systems on a daily basis. Data visualization and data mining techniques support users in data analysis and knowledge extraction.

Finally, two important field trials aiming to validate the new algorithms were carried out in Brazil, involving actual precision agriculture and offshore operations. For the precision agriculture trial, the Brazilian company Agro Pastoril Campanelli provided expert operational environment and support.

 The tractor used in the precision agriculture trial at Agro Pastoril Campanelli’s premises.

The tractor used in the precision agriculture trial at Agro Pastoril Campanelli’s premises.

For the offshore trial, the project counted on the collaboration of the DOF Brasil Group representing Norskan Offshore, a provider of high-end offshore services to the Brazilian oil and gas industry. Detailed results of both trials are in the project’s final report, which can be accessed through the GSA.

The Geograph vessel is operated by DOF Brasil.

The Geograph vessel is operated by DOF Brasil.

Setting up the receiver antenna for the offshore trial on board the Geograph vessel.

Setting up the receiver antenna for the offshore trial on board the Geograph vessel.

To provide a glimpse of the performance of the CALIBRA algorithms during the offshore trial, in FIGURE 1 we selected a period when strong scintillation conditions were encountered. In the top plot, two height component time series for kinematic PPP processing are shown, respectively, for the case where no mitigation is applied (black time series) and the case where the CALIBRA algorithm is applied (red time series).

FIGURE 1. Performance of CALIBRA algorithms in the offshore trial.

FIGURE 1. Performance of CALIBRA algorithms in the offshore trial.

The bottom plot shows the level of amplitude scintillation (S4 index) affecting the GPS satellites over a 10-degree elevation angle.

The improvement obtained with the CALIBRA solution can be seen in particular during the PPP convergence period (18:00 to 18:30 UT) and during the period of strong scintillation (22:30 to 23:30 UT). As there was no accurate ground truth available, the RMS values with respect to the mean height, taken from the quiet period (between 19:00 and 22:00 UTC), along with the percentage of improvement when applying the CALIBRA mitigation approach are summarized in TABLE 1.

TABLE 1. RMS values with respect to mean height, 19:00–22:00 UTC.

TABLE 1. RMS values with respect to mean height, 19:00–22:00 UTC.

Despite all the successful work carried out by CALIBRA, the team notes that research must be continued to accomplish further improvement in models and algorithms to finally develop processes for real-time operation. The challenge would be to counter these ionospheric threats in the scope of an operational service aimed to provide robust high-accuracy positioning to support user applications.

Furthermore, there were strong indications that the addition of Galileo will assist in mitigating the problems addressed in the project when more signals are available in space.


Marcio Aquino is a Principal Research Fellow at the Nottingham Geospatial Institute of Nottingham University and leader of CALIBRA.

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