ESA Telecom and Navigation Vehicle Ready for Test Driving

April 11, 2013  - By

The radio spectrum is about to get even busier, as Europe’s Galileo satnav system starts services, at the same time the European Space Agency (ESA) tests novel satellite-based telecommunication services. Supporting these developments from the ground, ESA’s new custom-built Telecommunications and Navigation Testbed Vehicle will measure the resulting signals from all over Europe.

Adapted from a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van, this unique measurement vehicle has been delivered to ESTEC by Austria’s Joanneum Research institute. “This is a dual-purpose vehicle, suitable for both telecommunications and navigation system testing,” explained Simon Johns of ESA’s Radionavigation Systems and Techniques Section.

“For navigation, we have the Galileo constellation coming on stream, as well as the stepping up of ESA’s GNSS Evolution programme — designing what comes next after Galileo’s first generation.”

The four wheel-drive vehicle can host a three-person team, and is crammed with dedicated navigation and telecommunication monitoring equipment.

Testbed vehicle screen.

Testbed vehicle screen.

“One of the main goals driving the design was to have an ‘easy to adapt’ test platform suitable to set up test campaigns for different mobile satellite systems and standards that would require different types of antennas and specific receiver/transmit equipment,” explained Olivier Smeyers of ESA’s Communication-TT&C Systems and Techniques Section.

“On the telecommunications side, there is a continuous effort to enhance current and create new mobile satellite-based broadcast and interactive services via the evolution of current systems or developing new standards,” Smeyers said. “Testing in the field is an essential element for validating and eventually establishing evolved or new standards. The vehicle has built-in multimedia equipment, including storage and control computers, multimedia gateway, passenger LCD screens, cameras and microphones, to serve this purpose.”

The vehicle features include two removable roof plates to mount specialized antennas (one currently hosts the antenna of a Broadband Global Area Network satellite terminal for Internet connectivity and multimedia and data streaming), an 8-meter-high telescopic mast capable of carrying 25 kilograms, a rubidium atomic clock synchronized to GPS time with nanosecond accuracy, a high-end spectrum analyzer and oscilloscope for signal measurements, and mobile temperature sensors to monitor the rack equipment.

A fish-eye video camera incorporating onscreen GPS timing and positioning performs continuous recording of its surroundings — to throw light on high buildings, trees, or other factors that might affect results.

Internal and external generators yield up to 5 kilowatts to keep everything running — sufficient power to supply two typical European households.

“The challenge was to fit in all the equipment and provide the necessary power and air conditioning, while still weighing less than 3.5 tonnes,” said Thomas Prechtl of Joanneum Research. “Exceeding this weight would have meant drivers would have needed a special license, and potentially limited its operations in some European nations.”