Inmarsat satellite test signal to replace lost British navigation capability

Inmarsat satellite test signal to replace lost British navigation capability

Inmarsat satellite test signal to replace lost British navigation capability

TAMPA, Fla. – Inmarsat said it started broadcasting a test navigation signal from an aging satellite on June 8 to help the UK replace space-based capabilities it lost after Brexit.

The British satellite operator is leading a group of local companies developing an alternative to the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), which is using Europe to expand and improve GPS services in the region.

The UK lost access to EGNOS satellites and ground stations last summer as a result of the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

This includes access to the EGNOS Safety-of-Life (SoL) service that allows aircraft to make highly accurate landing approaches with less expensive ground-based navigation aids.

The UK’s departure from the EU also means the country is no longer involved in Galileo, Europe’s global navigation satellite system (GNSS) which will reach its full operational capability this year.

The UK government has said it wants to develop a variety of independent space capabilities after Brexit, which is also in line with its strategy to expand the country’s domestic space industry.

According to Inmarsat, it has reused a transponder on its I-3 F5 satellite to broadcast a positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) signal that forms a testbed for replacing EGNOS SoL services.

The operator said the signal will help UK companies and regulators validate plans for a sovereign UK Space-Based Augmentation System (UKSBAS) to complement GPS.

The plan is for UKSBAS to use an overlay signal to improve services for satellite navigation users in the UK’s airspace and waters, increasing positioning accuracy to a few centimeters compared to the few meters provided only by standard GPS.

Although the I-3 F5 was launched in 1998 to provide connectivity across the UK and the Atlantic, Inmarsat spokesman Matthew Knowles said there is expected to be enough fuel to continue operating even after the first phase of the UKSBAS launch. tests will end in July.

Goonhilly Earth Station provides the signal uplink for the tests from Cornwall in the South West of England. GMV NSL, the UK-based satellite navigation specialist owned by Spanish technology supplier GMV, generates navigation data from the signal.

Knowles said the companies received about $1.5 million from the UK Space Agency last year, through the European Space Agency’s Navigation Innovation and Support Program (NAVISP), to conduct the first phase of the tests.

He said further testing phases will take place until mid-2024 before UKSBAS can become operational.

In 2017, Inmarsat started running tests for a similar augmentation network from another satellite in its fleet for Australia and New Zealand, which are in the process of procuring an operational system through a public tender.

Knowles said their program is “expected to begin later this year or early next year.”

navigation independence

The British government had initially started plans to develop its own GNSS after Brexit.

However, the government has effectively decided not to pursue a full-fledged satellite navigation constellation by September 2020, when it replace the GNSS project with its Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Program (SBPP).

Inmarsat was one of six companies to win UK Space Agency awards in May under SBPP – worth more than £2 million in total – to study technical and cost issues related to satellite navigation systems.

UK Space Agency spokesman Gareth Bethell said these companies have since reported their findings to the government, which is considering them and “working on next steps”.

Knowles said the UKSBAS project “will help build skills and capacity in the industry” should the government decide to pursue independent satellite navigation capabilities.

The British megaconstellation startup OneWeb, which is partly owned by the British government, is also considering adding PNT to services for its current and next-generation satellites.

Startups, including California-based Xona Space Systems, which recently deployed a test satelliteare also developing constellation plans that can complement or replace existing GNSS capabilities.