• Article
  • 03 Mar 2022
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Adam Stockley

The UK’s First Satnav Signal Marks a Step Towards Space Self-Sufficiency

Satnav + Listing Image

The UK has made no secret of its desire to be a major player in the space industry.

We have previously discussed its investment in LEO satellites and laser communications, among other factors.

Next on its list is satellite navigation, a vital aspect of everyday life. So, what does the UK’s satnav project look like?


UK Space-Based Augmentation System


The UK Space-Based Augmentation System (UKSBAS) involves augmenting a signal from the US Global Positioning System.

In short, the satellite involved will relay the US’s signal and overlay its own signal to improve accuracy for the UK. The satellite in question is the Inmarsat-3 F5.

The I-3F5 sits in geosynchronous orbit covering the UK and part of its Atlantic territory.

As such, it is in an ideal location to test the UKSBAS considering its eventual goals and uses.

Alongside Inmarsat are UK-based companies Goonhilly and GMVSL Ltd. Goonhilly, unsurprisingly, provides the UK-based ground station (in Cornwall), while GMVSL has created the ground-based navigational signal.

Together, they provide the infrastructure for the UK to receive the augmented GPS signal.

Augmenting the US GPS signal is a more cost-effective method of entering the GPS market.

Rather than launching a network of satellites, the UK can simply repurpose and refine the US’s signal.

After all, would a country like the UK really need its own GPS satellite network?


Establishing Satnav in 2022


While 2022 might seem like a late-stage to be entering the satnav market, it is not as unreasonable as it sounds.

The push towards greater technological autonomy and the need for greater precision – combined with the need for tighter security – means many countries are setting up national GNSS networks.

For example, the US, Australasia, South Korea, India, and Japan all have their own GNSS networks.

If the UK plans to be a major player in the space industry, it is not unreasonable for it to need its own.

Also, there is the system’s accuracy.

Augmenting the US signal could improve accuracy from metres to centimetres.

This could be a considerable benefit for aviation and maritime, particularly if the UK invests as heavily in eVTOL networks as it plans.

Of course, it is also partly thanks to the post-Brexit landscape.

The UK used to be part of Europe’s GNSS network and Galileo programme.

However, switching to a UK-based GPS system has its benefits (accuracy, employment, etc.), particularly if the country wants a robust space industry in the future.


Establishing National GNSS


The UKSBAS project launched in late-2021 and will be in final review by July 2022.

By then, we should have sufficient information about the system’s integrity, accuracy, and use cases.

Providing it delivers the intended results, we could see a more robust system in place in very little time.

It will be interesting to see what impact (if any) this has on the UK’s GPs systems.

Considering the country’s desire for established space and communications industries, setting up a national GNSS network seems like a logical early step.