NASA advancing GNSS capabilities for spacecraft - GPS World

NASA advancing GNSS capabilities for spacecraft

January 14, 2021  - By

NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program is developing capabilities that will allow missions at high altitudes to take advantage of GNSS signals for timing and navigation, including the Artemis missions to the Moon.

Interoperability of the GNSS constellations will be key for spacecraft at higher altitudes where GNSS signals are less plentiful. The program will rely on the four global constellations (GPS, Galileo, GLONASS and BeiDou) and the two regional systems operated by India and Japan.

SCaN is supporting flight experiments that will help develop multi-GNSS capabilities for spacecraft, such as Bobcat-1, developed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Ohio University.

Bobcat on the Prowl

Bobcat-1, shown with its deployable antenna stowed, will experiment with the GNSS inter-constellation time offset from low-Earth orbit. (Photo: NASA)

Bobcat-1, shown with its deployable antenna stowed, will experiment with the GNSS inter-constellation time offset from low-Earth orbit. (Photo: NASA)

Bobcat-1 was selected by the CubeSat Launch Initiative in 2018 to study GNSS signals from 250 miles overhead. The small satellite launched to the International Space Station aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft on Oct. 2, 2020.

On Nov. 5, the space station released the CubeSat to begin its mission. The spacecraft will orbit for about nine months, measuring signals from different GNSS constellations. Engineers will use these measurements to better understand GNSS performance, specifically focusing on timekeeping variations between the constellations.

“GNSS users at high altitudes see fewer satellites,” said Bobcat Co-Principal Investigator Frank Van Grass of Ohio University. “Time offsets between the constellations can be measured by the CubeSat and provided to these users to improve their positioning performance,”

SCaN Testbed

Bobcat-1 builds on the legacy of the SCaN Testbed, which demonstrated multi-GNSS capabilities on the space station from 2012 to 2019. The GPS and Galileo Receiver for the International Space Station (GARISS) — an instrument developed in collaboration between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) — received signals from both GPS and Galileo, the GNSS constellation operated by the European Union.

The SCaN Testbed prior to launch to the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA)

The SCaN Testbed prior to launch to the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA)

The SCaN TestBed also laid the foundation for the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), a Commercial Lunar Payload Services payload being developed in partnership with the Italian Space Agency. The payload will receive signals from both GPS and Galileo and is expected to obtain the first-ever GNSS fix on the lunar surface.

GNSS PNT Policy and Advocacy

While NASA engineers develop the technologies necessary for multi-GNSS navigation at ever-higher altitudes, the SCaN team works with stakeholders in the U.S. government and internationally to advance GNSS interoperability in the policy sphere. They consult on the United Nations International Committee on GNSS, helping develop additional capabilities in the Space Service Volume and beyond.

NASA recently worked to publish GPS antenna patterns from GPS satellites that launched between 1997 and 2000, collaborating with the U.S. Space Force, the U.S. Coast Guard and Lockheed Martin, who built the satellites. The PNT team is also working to facilitate publication of antenna patterns for more recent GPS satellites.

With this data, mission planners can better assess the performance of GNSS in high-Earth orbit and lunar space. This forthrightness also encourages other GNSS providers to be similarly transparent.

The Goddard PNT policy team received a 2019 Agency Honor Award for their advocacy of NASA’s interests in GNSS. From let are Frank Bauer, Jenny Donaldson, J.J. Miller, Ben Ashman and Joel Parker. Not pictured, Lauren Schlenker. (Photo: NASA)

The Goddard PNT policy team received a 2019 Agency Honor Award for their advocacy of NASA’s interests in GNSS. From let are Frank Bauer, Jenny Donaldson, J.J. Miller, Ben Ashman and Joel Parker. Not pictured, Lauren Schlenker. (Photo: NASA)

“GNSS capabilities continue to revolutionize the ways spacecraft navigate in near-Earth space and beyond,” said NASA navigation engineer Joel Parker. “NASA’s longstanding relationships with the GNSS providers have advanced these capabilities to new heights and support the Artemis missions on and around the Moon.”

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.