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Expert Advice: Cause Identified for Pseudorange Error from New GPS Satellite SVN-49

July 15, 2009  - By and
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By Richard Langleuy, with an additional note by Oliver Montenbruck

The GPS Wing and its contractors have traced the cause of pseudorange errors on L1 and L2 broadcast by the newest GPS satellite, SVN-49, to the manner in which the L5 signal demonstration payload was added to the satellite. Signal leakage between the two input ports of the antenna coupler network for the satellite’s array of 12 helical antenna elements, reflected from the L5 filter and then transmitted, creates a second signal with a delay of approximately 30 nanoseconds, and the appearance of a multipath component.

While testing an adjustment to the signal-in-space to minimize the effect of the problem on receiver navigation solutions on Earth, the GPS Wing is interested in hearing from manufacturers and the user community concerning the different impacts of SVN-49 signals on the wide range products and applications in operation, before reaching a final decision on what to do with the satellite prior to setting it healthy.


The seventh modernized GPS Block IIR satellite was launched on March 24, 2009. Called SVN-49, its sequence number in the long line of GPS satellites, or PRN01, after its pseudorandom noise code identifier, this satellite is special. In addition to the equipment required to transmit the legacy GPS C/A-code and P(Y)-code signals and the new civil L2C-code and military M-code signals on the standard L1 (1575.42 MHz) and L2 (1227.6 MHz) frequencies, SVN-49 carries an L5 demonstration payload. L5 is the new civil signal to be transmitted on 1176.45 MHz by Block IIF and succeeding generations of GPS satellites.

The demo payload was included to claim the frequency, which was allocated by the International Telecommunication Union before the August 26, 2009, deadline. The deadline had been imposed seven years earlier when the GPS Joint Program Office (the forerunner of the GPS Wing) applied for the frequency. The Block IIF program schedule had slipped a bit and as a safeguard (and one which eventually saved the day), the demo payload was developed and assigned to SVN-49.

Shortly after the L1/L2 system on SVN-49 was activated on March 28, it became clear that the satellite had a small problem. The pseudorange data obtained by U.S. Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2 SOPS) monitor stations had larger than normal errors. Typically, the errors have a random characteristic, with a mean of zero and a peak-to-peak variation of two meters or so. But the SVN-49 ionosphere-corrected errors reached a level of about four meters and when they were plotted against the elevation angle of the satellite as viewed at each monitor station, a clear trend emerged (see Figure 1).

FIGURE 1. Ionospheric-refraction-corrected SVN4-9 pseudorange residuals from data collected at 2 SOPS monitor stations (courtesy GPS Wing).

FIGURE 1. Ionospheric-refraction-corrected SVN4-9 pseudorange residuals from data collected at 2 SOPS monitor stations (courtesy GPS Wing).

Although larger than normal, the errors still fell within the accuracy tolerances specified for GPS signals. Nevertheless, the anomalous behavior of SVN-49’s signals was a cause of concern, and the GPS Wing and its contractors mounted efforts to find the cause.

Payload Source. They traced the source of the problem to the manner in which the L5 demo payload was added to the satellite. To understand the problem, we need to examine how the L1 and L2 signals are transmitted by a GPS satellite.

A primary and defining characteristic of GPS signals is that the received signal power should be approximately the same at any location on the Earth’s surface within view of the satellite. In other words, we should receive about the same signal power when a GPS satellite is overhead (and closer to us) as when it is low on the horizon (and further away). Any major variation in signal level seen by a receiver is typically due to the gain pattern of the receiver’s antenna.

To achieve a uniform power density at the Earth’s surface, a GPS satellite uses an array of 12 helical antenna elements, with an inner ring of four elements and an outer ring of eight, fed by an antenna coupler network (see Figure 2). The L1 and L2 signals are fed into the coupler through one of its two input ports: port J1. The inner ring of elements transmits most of the L1 and L2 power from J1 with a broad pattern, while the outer ring transmits a sharper pattern but with a weaker signal and a different phase. The net effect of this arrangement is to reduce the radiated power from the inner ring as seen at high elevation angles and boost it for lower elevation angles thereby achieving an almost uniform power density.

FIGURE 2. L-band antenna element locations (courtesy GPS Wing).

FIGURE 2. L-band antenna element locations (courtesy GPS Wing).

The antenna coupler’s other input port, J2, is used on SVN-49 to feed the L5 signal to the antenna array after first passing through a filter and a 162-inch (411-centimeter) cable. Most of the power from J2 goes to the outer ring, with less going to the inner ring — the inverse of the power distribution from J1. This is why initial reports of L5 signal acquisition noted its high directivity with much weaker signals at low elevation angles compared with the L1 and L2 signals. But this behavior was expected.

Not expected was the effect of the L5 filter and its associated cable run on the L1 and L2 signals. It turns out that some of the L1 and L2 signal from J1 exits the J2 port, is reflected from the L5 filter, and then is transmitted from the J2 port with a delay of approximately 30 nanoseconds. With hindsight, the J1 to J2 signal leakage and reflection from the L5 filter should have been prevented.

On the ground, a receiver sees both the direct signal and the weaker reflected signal, which looks like a multipath component. The GPS Wing and its contractors have attempted to model the effect of the reflected signal on GPS receiver measurements. According to their models, if the direct and reflected L1 signals are in phase at the zenith, then a standard code-correlating receiver will measure a C/A-code pseudorange that is 1.62 meters too long. The error becomes smaller as the elevation angle drops, due to the drop in power level of the reflected signal, reaching zero at an elevation angle of about 42 degrees, corresponding to a null in the antenna pattern and then rising slightly as the elevation angle drops to zero (see Figure 3).

FIGURE 3. Model of the differences between the SVN-49 L1 delayed (multipath) and direct signals (courtesy GPS Wing).

FIGURE 3. Model of the differences between the SVN-49 L1 delayed (multipath) and direct signals (courtesy GPS Wing).

P(Y), L2, and L2C. The same error behavior is expected for L1 P(Y)-code pseudoranges. Maximum L2 P(Y)-code pseudorange errors are modeled to be zero if the direct and reflected L2 signals are in quadrature, or to have maximum values of about plus 0.95 meters if the direct and reflected signals have the same phase, and minus 1.1 meters if they have the opposite phase. Ground tests should confirm which of the three possibilities describes the actual signals. The L2C signal is expected to behave in a similar manner to the L2 P(Y) signal.

If ionosphere-free pseudoranges are computed from the L1 and L2 pseudoranges, the maximum errors are predicted to be 4.14, 2.66, and 5.84 meters for the quadrature, in-phase, and opposite-phase L2 direct and reflected signal possibilities.

The models also predict an effect on carrier-phase measurements, but these are very much smaller: a maximum error of 6.8 millimeters on L1 and 4.8 millimeters on L2.

It is not possible to fully fix the problem. The GPS Wing and its contractors are looking at ways to minimize the effect of the problem on receiver navigation solutions. One
experiment under assessment is to adjust the broadcast navigation message ephemeris of the satellite by placing the antenna phase center about 152 meters above the actual position of the satellite, while compensating with a satellite clock offset. Such navigation message adjustments reduce the peak-to-peak variation of the error by about a half; they do not eliminate it.

Status Quo? Another possibility is to broadcast the signal as is, without attempts to compensate for the error. It would then be up to the user to determine how best to use the signals. Initial indications show that certain receivers with advanced multipath mitigation correlators can essentially filter out much of the multipath component (see Narrow Correlators Screen Error section below). Receivers with standard correlators could use the SNV-49 signals but assign a higher uncertainty to the measurements when they are combined with those from other satellites.

The GPS Wing is interested in hearing from manufacturers and the user community concerning the impact of SVN-49 signals on products and applications before coming to a final decision on what to do with the satellite before setting it healthy, and a briefing and interview process has begun to obtain that information. The decision is expect by mid-September.

 

— Richard B. Langley, University of New Brunswick


Narrow Correlators Screen Error

The typical variation of SVN-49 multipath errors over time is illustrated in Figure 4 for semi-codeless P(Y)-code measurements on the L1 and L2 frequency from a commercial test receiver near Munich, Germany. SVN-49 was visible for roughly 6 hours at this site and reached a peak elevation angle of 80 degrees. The errors are most pronounced on L1 where they vary between –0.5 meters near the horizon and +1 meter near the center of the pass. L2, in contrast, is notably less affected. Here, multipath errors caused by signal reflections in the satellite are well below 0.5 meters in amplitude and cannot be clearly distinguished from local multipath at the receiver site.

FIGURE 4. Typical SNV-49 multipath errors for semi-codeless P(Y)-code tracking on L1 (top) and L2 (bottom) from a conventional correlator (using JAVAD GNSS Triumph receivers.)

FIGURE 4. Typical SNV-49 multipath errors for semi-codeless P(Y)-code tracking on L1 (top) and L2 (bottom) from a conventional correlator (using JAVAD GNSS Triumph receivers.)

While the example shown in Figure 4 is representative for many receivers currently tracking the new GPS satellite, a few receivers are able to filter out the satellite multipath component due to the use of special multipath-mitigation techniques. While implementation details are mostly proprietary, it is commonly known that strobe or double-delta correlators can effectively counteract short-range multipath when using an extremely narrow correlator spacing. The effectiveness of such techniques is shown in Figure 5 for C/A-code and L2C-code tracking by the same test receiver. Obviously, multipath errors are well below the thermal noise in this case and the measurement errors can hardly be distinguished from those of other GPS satellites.

FIGURE 5. SVN49 multipath errors for C/A-code (top) and L2C-code (bottom) tracking using special multipath-mitigation techniques with 20-nanosecond correlator spacing (using JAVAD GNSS Triumph receivers.)

FIGURE 5. SVN49 multipath errors for C/A-code (top) and L2C-code (bottom) tracking using special multipath-mitigation techniques with 20-nanosecond correlator spacing (using JAVAD GNSS Triumph receivers.)

From a practical point of view, users will probably have to decide on their own whether to employ receivers with advanced multipath-mitigation capabilities, whether to apply elevation-angle-dependent measurement corrections (primarily for L1 code measurements), or whether to simply accept the moderate degradation of the SVN-49 measurements. In view of the wide variety of receivers in use and considering their varied applications, a unique solution to the SVN-49 problem is probably not feasible, and care should be taken before applying a priori “corrections” that might cause more harm than good.

(Editor’s Note: The data used to track the anomalies of SVN-49 were gathered using JAVAD GNSS Triumph receivers.)

— Oliver Montenbruck, German Aerospace Center

 

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