GNSS CEOs see bright future, alternative PNT promises well

December 28, 2016  - By

It has been a good year for all global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), as the chief executives of each system testify here. Alternative positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) also thrives. In this roundup of the latest highlights from the past year and forecasts for the future, 2017 augurs very well indeed! Let’s look at the newest alternative-PNT offerings first, followed by forecasts from the chief executive officers (CEOs) of each of the conventional GNSS.

Alternative PNT grows and expands

Two new entrants to the positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) marketplace offer key capabilities to fill in the gaps left by GNSS. A new satellite timing and location (STL) service from low-Earth orbit satellites, provided by Satelles and Orolia, gives a strong signal capable of penetrating buildings.

Satellite Time and Location (STL) Service. Pursuant to a recent announcement of new PNT solutions independent of GPS/GNSS signals, provided via the Iridium constellation, GPS World talked with Jean-Yves Courtois, CEO of Orolia. Orolia has partnered with Satelles to bring new PNT products and services to the global market, with a focus on military, and defense, government and commercial customers worldwide.

Jean-Yves Courtois, CEO of Orolia

Jean-Yves Courtois, CEO of Orolia.

“We are a manufacturer and integrator of timing equipment,” Courtois said. Orolia is the parent company of GPS/GNSS product and service providers Spectracom, McMurdo and Spectratime. “This new STL service is not fully commercialized yet, but it’s operational and it can be tested. Receivers are available and can be integrated into our equipment.

“The timing signal is very accurate and close enough to GPS for most timing applications, although the positioning accuracy is lower than what GPS users are used to. It is an augmentation for timing primarily, and secondarily for positioning.

“In terms of timing accuracy, it provides on the order of tenths of microseconds in accuracy, and this covers a lot of timing applications, very familiar to us and to our customers. This is an ideal timing backup or augmentation of GPS. As number 2 worldwide in high-precision timing, we know this market and its applications very well.”

Correlator beamforming. The Locata Corporation announced a patented correlator beamforming technology to stem multipath mitigation. The new technique’s performance under rigorous testing by the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology will be detailed in the January 2017 issue. Look for it! Here are a series of snippets as a preview of that lengthy technical article appearing in Richard Langley’s Innovation column.

“Unlike conventional or traditional beamsteering technology, the new correlator beamforming approach combines RF signals received by any number of individual antenna elements into a single switched-RF signal. This time-multiplexed signal is then downconverted and digitized by a single RF front-end. The correlator beamforming design will should offer cost savings because the resulting data stream is processed using a single correlator channel per beam. This markedly reduces the complexity when compared to the traditional beamsteering methodology.

“The correlator beamforming technique performs antenna array signal processing to form beams as part of a receiver’s correlation process. The complete explanation of this technology can quickly get complex, even for the seasoned RF engineer. To describe this process more simply, we will assume noiseless signals and no multipath (except as noted), as well as equal noise figures for all front-end processing chains. To further simplify our explanation, modulation on the carrier and switching losses will be ignored.”

“To evaluate the performance of correlator beamforming as fairly as possible compared to traditional beamsteering and single-element processing, AFIT set up its data collection such that all three approaches could be implemented in a software receiver. Additionally, a seven-element Naval Air Systems Command GPS Antenna System 1 (GAS-1) antenna was used for this experiment. The antenna was mounted on a 51-inch (130-centimeter) diameter rolled-edge ground plane provided to the ANT Center by the MITRE Corporation.”

“The testing focused on demonstrating an easily modified GNSS receiver to potentially deliver a low-cost solution for mitigating multipath — specifically targeting short delay and carrier multipath. The results presented here show that the multipath rejection performance nearly equals that of a traditional beamsteering GNSS receiver. Applications that can significantly benefit from this technology include stationary GNSS monitoring installations such as those used in satellite-based and ground-based augmentation systems and GNSS receivers for autonomous vehicles and UAVs in high multipath areas such as urban canyons.”

GPS III ready, steady

Col. Steve Whitney, Director, U.S. Air Force GPS Directorate

Col. Steve Whitney, Director, U.S. Air Force GPS Directorate

“The [GPS III] program is  working to solve several technical challenges as we progress to completion,” Col. Steve Whitney, director of the U.S. Air Force GPS Directorate, wrote in GPS World’s December issue. “SV-01 testing uncovered electro-magnetic interference between a payload component and a hosted payload. Testing also uncovered electron impact issues on the L-band antenna elements. In partnership with Lockheed Martin, the program developed corrective action and design mitigations for both of these issues and is implementing these steps within our production flow for all the SVs.”

“In the coming year, SV-02, the second GPS III satellite, will also be progressing towards completing production. Currently, all of the SV-02 sub-assemblies have been received by Lockheed Martin and are being integrated into the spacecraft. The next major step in the production flow for SV-02 will be to mate it with its propulsion core.

“Recently, we completed negotiations with Lockheed Martin to extend the production line with purchases of SV-09 and SV-10. These satellites will be technically equivalent to SV-01 through SV-08. This $395 million purchase of two satellites marks a significant affordability milestone for the procurement of GPS III satellites.

“Looking ahead, we are analyzing how to acquire satellites beyond SV-10. We are executing a phased strategy which starts first with determining the viability of a GPS III production design existing beyond the current contractor. We awarded an initial phase of contracts to the Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in May 2016 to provide a feasibility assessment of the readiness of their satellites designs. In this phase, the contractors will provide a GPS III production design, manufacturing plans and a navigation payload brassboard test report, along with manufacturing/production processes and facilities maturity.”

Galileo coming on strong

Director of the Galileo Programme Paul Verhoef of the European Commission wrote in that same issue of the magazine, “The production of the satellites continues to maintain a steady rhythm, with a production line stretching from suppliers across Europe to OHB and SSTL and then to ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands for acceptance testing, based on a wide range of simulated space tests.”

Closing out the year on a triumphant note, Galileo declared its Initial Services on December 15.

Paul Verhoef, director of the Galileo Programme and Navigation-related Activities, European Space Agency.

Paul Verhoef, director of the Galileo Programme and Navigation-related Activities, European Space Agency.

“The acceptance of the next satellites to launch is scheduled for this year’s end,” continued Verhoef. “Along with the two more Ariane 5 launches to come — one in the second half of 2017 and another in 2018 — the current plan is to commission further launch services as well as additional satellites in order to have Galileo fully operational by 2020. For these launches, Galileo may be the first customer of the new Ariane-6 launch vehicle.

“2017 will see the upgrade of various elements of the Galileo Ground Segment to reinforce its robustness, including updated releases to the Galileo Control Segment overseeing the satellites and the Galileo Mission Segment, overseeing the navigation signals. A new release of elements of the Galileo Security Facility, for security monitoring of the system, as well as the secure Public Regulated Service, will be deployed at the two Galileo Security Monitoring Centres.

“The Galileo Ground Segment will gain a sixth tracking telemetry and control facility, for monitoring the satellite platforms in Papeete, Tahiti, and additional processing chains for increased redundancy will be deployed across the Uplink Stations in Kourou, Reunion and Noumea used to update the navigation message information. Similar redundant chains will be finalized for all 15 current Galileo Sensor Stations, which perform continuous collection of Galileo signals to identify the tiniest clock error or satellite drift.”

EGNOS. “Along with the progress of Galileo, contracts are planned to cater for the further development of the ESA-designed European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, Europe’s first navigation system. EGNOS was certified for safety-of-life aviation use in 2011, and is managed by the European Commission through a contract with operator the European Satellite Services Provider, based in France. ESA will support the technical evolution of EGNOS version 3, intended as multi-constellation in nature, again through the Horizon 2020 framework.”

GLONASS looks forward to a new signal: CDMA!

Sergey Karutin, GLONASS Chief Designer, wrote “On the threshold of the first GLONASS-K2 launch, new GLONASS reference documents were published in October 2016, describing the family of code-division multiple-access (CDMA) radionavigation signals. The draft GLONASS Open Service Performance Standard has been developed. The GLONASS User Information Support System continues to evolve.”

From left: Sergey Karutin, GLONASS designer general; Nicolay Testoedov, director general, SC Information Satellite Systems; and Andrey Tulin, director general, SC Russian Space Systems.

From left: Sergey Karutin, GLONASS designer general;
Nicolay Testoedov, director general, SC Information Satellite Systems; and Andrey Tulin, director general, SC Russian Space Systems.

“The system transmitting CDMA navigation signals is referred to in four interrelated interface control documents containing general information on signals and the detailed description of signal structures and digital message data. The new signals make it possible to include 63 satellites in the constellation, not only in circular medium-Earth orbit but also on geostationary and high-Earth orbits.

“The transition to the flexible string-type structure of the message data produces 2-second periodicity of integrity information delivery to users. The increased number of digits occupied by the ephemeris and clock parameters contributes to a better orbit and clock broadcast accuracy. The ephemeris broadcast precision improves from 0.4 to 0.001 meters. Time-stamp length in CDMA signal has increased to 30 bits, compared to 12 bits of frequency-division multiple-access signals.”

BeiDou approaches full regional services

Li Wang

Li Wang

“In 2017, three to four launches of BeiDou satellites will occur,” wrote Li Wang, Director of the International Cooperation Center in China’s Satellite Navigation Office. “BDS will provide basic services to the countries along the Belt and Road region by 2018, and possess global service capability by 2020.”

“BDS will keep improving its nationwide reference station network and steadily enhance its service performance. The dense reference stations for the nationwide frame network will be constructed by 2018, providing meter and decimeter level real-time location services for users in China, even centimeter level service in some areas.

“BDS will carry out the design, validation and construction of SBAS in accordance with international civil aviation standards. The first GEO satellite of BDSBAS will be launched in around 2018. The satellite-based augmentation services covering China and surrounding regions will be provided from 2020, to provide CAT-I services to civil aviation users.

“China will promote construction of a national comprehensive positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) system based on BDS, and strive to establish such a national PNT system with a united benchmark, no-gap coverage, security and effectiveness by 2030, as well as to upgrade capabilities to provide time and space information.”


About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.

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  1. Missed NAVIC/IRNSS plans