Satellite navigation – a cornerstone of the 21st century

Satellite navigation technology, also known as Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), is a vital piece of the digital infrastructure of our modern society, most commonly recognised in services such as GPS. Satellites stationed more than 19,000km from the earth can get us from A to B on Google Maps, lower our car insurance premiums by tracking good driving, and will be crucial in facilitating and growing the emerging Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) space.

Resilience of GNSS will be key to AAM

While conventional aircraft also rely on GNSS, primarily through ADS-B technology in the cockpit, for the new and novel aircraft that are currently under development, satellite navigation will be more important than ever before. A reliable, robust and resilient satellite ecosystem, alongside a comprehensive 5G rollout, will provide the technological bandwidth necessary for the operation of AAM – manned or unmanned – in the airspace above our regions and cities.

This critical issue – the resilience of communication and navigation services for the development of a thriving AAM industry – will be the subject of a fascinating topic at the Global Urban and Advanced Air Summit (GUAAS) next month, but it is worth a broader look at where the potential resilience problems lie, and how ADS members are working to solve them.

Is GNSS resilience a problem today?

For the most part, GNSS is an incredibly reliable technology that has revolutionised life on earth. But aviation is an industry dedicated to safety, and any deviation from the maximum reliability is problematic. A EUROCONTROL Think Paper last year revealed that the last few years have seen a significant increase in satellite navigation interference incidents – a sustained 2000% increase since 2018, with 5% of flights in European airspace potentially requiring assistance and adding to pilot workload.

These interference incidents are the result of a downside of GNSS, its vulnerability to radio frequency interference (RFI) and jamming measures by state or proxy actors. Moreover, IATA are concerned by the growing volume of interference and the impact to airspace users – they have made a series of recommendations for the aerospace sector, including the need for Air Navigation Service Providers, such as NATS,  to inform flight crews and air traffic controllers GNSS disturbance.

While aircraft can operate without GNSS, interference in satellite navigation systems can have a significant detrimental impact on route efficiency, communication and could pose a safety risk – the FAA’s recent concerns over the rollout of 5G in the US demonstrate the potential safety risk that interference with critical aircraft components could cause.

How can we improve the resilience of GNSS for the new era of flight?

There are a number of innovations in development to bolster the resilience of satellite navigation. For example, ADS member CGI are developing a GNSS Event Notification System that will monitor the spectrum in the UK for interference of GNSS. This will further improve the alerting and reporting of interference – thus allowing the relevant technical authority to take action to reduce the impact of radio frequency interference.

The other key pillar of solidifying resilience is the use of 5G technology, another focus of CGI. 5G’s high capacity, low latency and high speed will unlock a new range of possibilities for positioning, navigation and timing of satellite navigation services. By fusing together 5G and GNSS, the system will have greater redundancy and reliability – improving the resilience of the technology on which our society relies, and ensuring a safe and connected AAM ecosystem can thrive.

What next from here?

ADS will be working closely with our members, relevant authorities including the Government, NATS and the CAA, to develop policy in this space. GUAAS on March 2 and 3 will be a prime opportunity to hear more about the need for a resilient digital infrastructure for the next era of flight – so make sure to book your place now.