Mar 2019 | No Comment

Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for GPS pioneers

This year’s £1m QE Engineering Prize has been won by four individuals who played key roles in developing GPS. The Americans Brad Parkinson, James Spilker Jr, Hugo Fruehauf, and Richard Schwartz were all present at the London ceremony held to announce the honour.

Dr Parkinson said it was an extraordinary honour to receive the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, but he was then quick to pay tribute to the many people who were involved in the innovation. “It is an awesome honour. There is no prize for engineering greater than this,” he told BBC News.

He pulled together experts over Labor Day weekend, 1973, to brainstorm the project, producing a 7-page report that was then implemented with initial funding of $200m. Dr Parkinson recruited James Spilker Jr, who designed the signal that’s transmitted by the satellites.

Hugo Freuhauf is credited with miniaturising laboratory atomic clocks so they could be carried aboard a spacecraft. These small, super-accurate timepieces are at the heart of the system.

And Richard Schwartz takes a share in the prize for the radiation-hardened design of the satellites, which at the start of the project were made by Rockwell International.

UK Galileo replacement proposed

In a paper published in the Journal of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Professor Chris Chatwin of the University of Sussex and Dr Lasisi Lawal Salami from the Obasanjo Space Center in Nigeria put forward their aim to provide an alternative to Galileo, which is set to launch in 2026. The proposal comprises a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) to be hosted by a national satellite as a Navigation Overlay Service (NOS); academics say it would cost around £300 million (€344.52 million) and would fulfil the UK’s satellite navigation needs in the defence, aviation and maritime sectors, as well as providing essential location-based service information for the emergency services.

The programme laid out in the proposal, including the launch of three geostationary satellites to allow for global navigational coverage, an augmentation system acting as a payload on a national satellite and on-ground infrastructure to support the satellite system, is projected to take a year to complete. The paper suggests the programme would provide up to five times more accuracy than Galileo and reach equivalent levels of integrity and reliability.

Professor Chatwin, Professor in Engineering at the University of Sussex, said: “Our system can use the GPS or Galileo free signal or both and augments it to give it a more accurate signal that is comparable to the encrypted military signal. The augmentation system has extremely accurate clocks so it provides an additional signal to the GPS signal and reduces the ambiguity of the location determination. If we use augmentation we can greatly reduce costs from £7 billion to £300 million, but we still depend on the US or the EU for their free signal.

In the end this is a decision about sovereignty. If we still believe that we are an independent military power, then we’d have to find considerable resources to build our own GNSS [global navigation satellite system]. We could call it Newton.”

Jamming of GPS signals in Norway

Norway’s foreign intelligence unit has expressed renewed concerns that its GPS signals in the country’s Far North were being jammed. In its annual national risk assessment report, the intelligence service said that in repeated incidents since 2017, GPS signals have been blocked from Russian territory in Norwegian regions near the border with Russia. The jamming events have often coincided with military exercises on Norwegian soil, such as the NATO Trident Juncture manoeuvres last autumn and the mid-January deployment of British attack helicopters in Norway for training in Arctic conditions.

Norway has on several occasions raised the issue with Russian authorities, and is cooperating with other Nordic countries to gather as much information as possible, Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said.

India to launch GLONASS-based transport control system

India is going to launch a toll collection system based on Russia’s GLONASS on New Delhi-Mumbai highway. The project will be implemented by the operator of Platon Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system, which is used to collect tolls from the owners of heavy lorries in Russia.

Russian RT-Invest Transport Systems (RTITS), the operator of GLONASSbased Platon ETC system, received a contract for the implementation of a similar project in India.

RTITS, which is co-owned by Russian billionaire Igor Rotenberg, won the tender and signed the contract with India at the end of December 2018. The company has already begun the implementation of a fare payment system on the New Delhi-Mumbai highway with a length of almost 1,500 kilometres.

To implement the system, it is supposed to equip vehicles with onboard devices based on GLONASS and the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System. The devices have been developed specifically for this project. The Indian transport sector expects to earn up to $2-3 billion per year thanks to the toll collection system.

China to launch 10 BeiDou satellites

China will send 10 satellites to join the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) through seven separate launches this year, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has announced. The launches will help complete the BDS global network by 2020, said Shang Zhi, director of the Space Department of the CASC, at a press conference, where the Blue Book of China Aerospace Science and Technology Activities was released. As an important achievement during the past 40 years of reform and opening-up, the BDS has also been widely used to serve China’s economic development.

More than 6,000 fishing boats in the eastern province of Zhejiang have been installed with the BDS ship movement monitoring system, which helps them improve positioning accuracy and promptness.

About 6.17 million vehicles, 35,000 postal and express delivery vehicles and 80,000 buses in 36 major cities have been installed or are compatible with the BDS. The system is also used in homemade civilian aircraft.

China Post has equipped its postal vehicles with 30,000 BDS terminals and connected them with the BDS-based information management platform. E-commerce giant also arms 1,500 logistics vehicles and 2,000 couriers with smart BDS terminals, according to the blue book.

Galileo now predicts the weather

Spire Global, a space-to-cloud analytics company, is now using Galileo to offer GNSS radio occultation (GNSS-RO) products for the weather community. Radio occultation is the process of using satellites to measure how GNSS signals are refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere.

Two of Spire’s nano satellites are the first to use Galileo signals to measure GNSSRO profiles, a service now available to Spire’s global user base as a new tier of data for advanced weather prediction. The satellites were launched on Nov. 29, 2018, from Sriharikota, India. The satellites are part of the collaborative European Space Agency ARTES Pioneer Space-as-a-Service program, which aims to prove the value of using nanosatellites for space-based GNSS-RO.

With Galileo, Spire’s weather observation satellites can harvest approximately 25 percent of the total GNSS-RO profiles available from the existing GNSS satellite constellations in orbit today.

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