EAB Q&A: Could a new PNT constellation replace GNSS?

July 13, 2023  - By

“Could a new PNT constellation using LEO satellites fully replace the services provided by the four existing GNSS constellations?”

Mitch Narins

Mitch Narins

“From a pure capabilities standpoint, the answer is “Yes”. LEO constellations can provide the PNT performance metrics that users require. However, should this strategy be followed, it would lack the diverse, complementary solutions needed to ensure the safety, security, and efficiency of critical infrastructure. Many have recognized the need for resilient PNT solutions and identified system-of-systems approaches. Multiple satellite constellations — MEOs and LEOs (despite the number of platforms) — lack this needed resilience. A resilient system-of-systems should include satellites in multiple orbits and complementary ground-based PNT infrastructure, each providing needed performance and overall demonstrating resilience from diverse threats.”

— Mitch Narins
Strategic Synergies

Photo: Orolia

John Fischer

“In theory, yes. With a much stronger signal (antijam) that is encrypted (antijam), they counter GNSS’s two main vulnerabilities. However, with a paid service business model, it is difficult to compete with a free service. Moreover, large constellations are needed to overcome GDOP. OneWeb, Starlink, et al. already have launched and will continue to launch large constellations, so they must compete with these high bandwidth communications constellations that can provide accurate PNT as a side service and don’t have a GDOP limitation because of their size. Adoption of a single-purpose PNT system will be difficult.”

— John Fischer

Bernard Gruber

Bernard Gruber

“Yes, it could. That said, as with any new product or technology, evolution of PNT capabilities will be dependent on competition, value or threats that undermine the current environment. Burgeoning systems such as Xona, Satelles or any number of augmentations utilizing “signal of interest” such as Starlink will rightly contribute to the evolution of enhanced PNT. Current advantages of LEO-based systems such as increased received power, decreased convergence time and numerical diversity are noteworthy, but replacing an investment of $100B+ government backed GNSS systems that adhere to well established policies and published ICDs is another.”

— Bernie Gruber
Northrop Grumman

Headshot: Jules McNeff

Jules McNeff

“As my colleagues above note, the answer is yes from a technical perspective. However, in practice, not so much. Even with software-defined receivers, issues of signal reception and processing, interface standards, comm/nav service prioritization, security, integration into complex systems, integrity assurance, etc. make use of such nav services in lieu of purpose-built GNSS services impractical.”

Jules McNeff
Overlook Systems Technologies 

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.