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From testing GPS to assuring PNT

December 8, 2023  - By
A Spirent user employs a portable GSS6450 attached to an antenna to record GPS, other GNSS, and complementary signals for resilient PNT testing. (Image: Spirent)

A Spirent user employs a portable GSS6450 attached to an antenna to record GPS, other GNSS, and complementary signals for resilient PNT testing. (Image: Spirent)

What is Spirent’s GPS origin story?

Spirent’s GPS genesis began on a rooftop in the middle of the night in the early 1980s. Engineers were attempting to acquire the new GPS signals with their receivers, scheduling their lives around the times when satellites would pass overhead, angling antennas off a roof in the dark, and hoping for favorable conditions. Those difficulties inspired an idea: since real-world conditions are never the same twice, simulating the signals in a lab would control variables and provide repeatable and trustworthy results.

That idea grew to be Spirent’s positioning division — a team of experts whose sole focus is to partner with customers to accelerate the deployment of robust PNT technology. In 1985, one of the first groundbreaking simulators provided to a customer generated six GPS L1/L2 signals. Soon after, we developed the world’s first simulator with SA-A/S capability, establishing our reputation for innovation. Today, simulation is for much more than convenience. The further upstream testing starts, the better for R&D and investment decisions. Because of that, we work across the spectrum in close partnership with constellation developers, receiver manufacturers, and OEM application integrators.

Can you share a recent breakthrough?

GPS regional military protection (RMP) is a nascent anti-jamming capability that uses a steerable, narrow-beam M-code signal, allowing U.S. and allied forces to operate much closer to interference without losing connection. Spirent supports RMP, so modernized GPS user equipment (MGUE) can be tested and integrated with RMP long before live-sky signals are available.
Another major breakthrough is in AltNav, a catch-all term that includes non-GNSS sources of RF and other complementary PNT, with recent attention focused on low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellations. Spirent has developed LEO AltNav simulators for both the military and commercial sectors that seamlessly integrate with Spirent’s extensive testbed for GNSS, threat simulation, inertial navigation systems, and additional complementary PNT.

How is your company preparing for the next 50 years of PNT with GPS and beyond?

As a trusted industry test partner, one of Spirent’s guiding principles over the past five decades has been to support PNT developers and early adopters by being first-to-market with new signals and constellations. Enabled by our flexible solutions, our dedication to that tenet will continue across the next five decades.

NAVWAR resilience testing is an area where emerging test needs will continue to demand more from the test environment. Layered PNT positioning engines — including GNSS, secure military signals, CRPA systems, multi-orbit architectures, and sensor fusion — are driving complexity in the test regimes that support them. Spirent’s purpose-built solutions are designed to meet these advancements, with deterministic simulation that delivers definitive validation and accurate test results.

Spirent pioneered the use of software-defined radios for GNSS simulation with the GSS9000, which enabled the same architecture to support new signal types, higher motion rates, user-defined waveforms, and more than double the generated signals. The next generation will extend that flexibility, capacity, and ease of integration to future complementary PNT sources while maintaining system performance across physical and virtual realms.

About the Author: Roger Hart

Roger Hart, director of engineering, joined Spirent Federal in 2015. He has worked in development of spacecraft navigation systems, including GPS, for civil, NASA and defense applications since 1986.