UK hits reset on how to deliver satnav

September 25, 2020  - By

The United Kingdom will explore new options for satellite navigation and timing capability to support critical infrastructure, it announced in a press release.

The Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Programme (SBPP) will explore new and alternative ways to deliver vital satellite navigation services to the U.K. for transport systems, energy networks, mobile communications, and national security and defense.

The SBPP also aims to boost the British space industry and develop the U.K.’s own capabilities in these services.

UK GNSS program reinvented

The new program follows the work of the UK GNSS program, which concludes Sept. 30. UK GNSS began in 2018 as a result of Brexit and the U.K.’s departure from the Galileo program.

UK GNSS is an exploration programme that has developed outline plans for a conventional satellite system as an alternative to American GPS or the EU’s Galileo. The program will now be reset as the SBPP to build on this work to consider newer, more innovative ideas of delivering global satnav and secure satellite services to meet public, government and industry needs.

In 2018, the government announced an 18-month program, led by the UK Space Agency, to develop a conventional GNSS, which could meet U.K. security requirements and support the U.K.’s sovereign space and cryptography sectors.

Work completed by the UK GNSS Programme so far has developed cutting-edge British expertise in areas such as spacecraft and antenna design, satellite and ground control systems, systems engineering and simulation, which have wider applications across the space sector, in addition to supporting specialist U.K. jobs and industrial GNSS capability.

SBPP program to meet everyday needs

Image: melis82/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Image: melis82/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

The refocused SBPP program could include technology that supports people’s everyday lives, such as emergency services to locate incidents, financial services companies to regulate exchanges on the U.K. stock market, or energy networks to ensure households receive power. Satellite navigation systems are also necessary to unlocking future technologies such as driverless cars, smart cities and artificial intelligence.

Capitalizing on the ingenuity of British businesses and academics, the program will explore the use of different kinds of satellites at various levels of orbit by exploiting technologies offered by companies at the cutting-edge of innovation such as OneWeb, Inmarsat and Airbus.

A Cabinet Office Study examining the need for a U.K. space-based system for secure positioning, navigation and timing concluded that any solution would need to examine more options and further work is needed to determine what form a potential system takes so it provides value for money.

To meet U.K. industry and government needs for resilient global navigation and timing while also providing value for money to the public, the new SBPP will consider collaboration with international allies to share satellite navigation services, costs and technology.

Also see

With new space program, UK continues march to more holistic PNT

“Satellites underpin so many of the services that we all use every single day, from precise train timetables on our phones and satnavs in our cars,” said Business Secretary Alok Sharma. “Through our Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Programme, we will draw on the strengths of the U.K.’s already thriving space industry to understand our requirements for a robust and secure satellite navigation system. This includes considering low-orbiting satellites that could deliver considerable benefits to people and businesses right across the U.K., while potentially reducing our dependency on foreign satellite systems.”

“I am delighted to see a further boost to the U.K.’s already thriving space industry,” said Scotland Office Minister Iain Stewart. “The U.K. government works closely with industry and academia to support the sector. We have high ambitions for the U.K. to be a global sector leader. The U.K. government is expanding its plans to understand requirements for a satellite navigation system. Satellite navigation provides the core services that we all use every day such as our mobile networks and is the key to unlocking further technical innovation in the future. This new programme will potentially pave the way for greater independence from foreign systems such as the United States’ GPS or the EU’s Galileo system which will allow greater opportunities for British businesses.”

“Our work to date has developed cutting-edge U.K. expertise in satellite navigation spacecraft, antenna design and control systems, while supporting high-skilled jobs,” Graham Turnock, CEO of the UK Space Agency said. “Now is the time to drive this work further to look into wider, more innovative ways of delivering this important national capability — to help protect our critical infrastructure and put the U.K. at the forefront of the development of new space technologies.”

Currently, the U.K. is entirely dependent on foreign systems for these critical navigation services. SBPP will enable to the U.K. to build on its thriving space industry, home to global players such as Inmarsat, Airbus, Surrey Satellites (SSTL) and others, to become a global leader in space navigation technologies, developing new opportunities for businesses in the U.K. and overseas and creating new highly skilled jobs.

The government has made clear its ambitions for the U.K. to become a globally competitive space power and is taking action through the newly established National Space Council, emerging National Space Strategy and the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, to create the conditions for a strong, secure and innovative space sector that delivers for the British people.

A government-backed study from London Economics estimated that sustained disruption to existing satellite navigation capabilities would likely cost the U.K. economy £1 billion per day. Investment in space technology and services will enable the U.K. to build back better, unleashing the country’s global competitiveness and underpinning growth and high-skilled jobs.

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.