Improving Satellite Navigation in the Far North

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There is currently an effort to extend satellite navigation abilities into the north polar regions for transportation that occurs on land, over the water, and in the air.

Norway has pioneered this advance in satellite technology. The Norwegian research ship Gunnerus, part of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, is seeking to emulate the technology used by Europe’s Geostationary Navigation Overlay System, or EGNOS. EGNOS is currently in use in Europe and contains about 40 ground monitoring stations that measure GPS signals, creating a more precise map for users to interact with when they are on the go. Right now the EGNOS system isn’t available to anyone seeking to use GPS above 70 degrees north, which makes navigating in the region troublesome.

Multi-constellation augmentation helps improve the precision of existing GPS technologies by overlapping information gathered from multiple sources. This ensures that there is always coverage in satellite data no matter where the user moves. While this has been solved in most parts of the United States and Europe, the polar regions have unique geographical and atmospheric factors that can distort satellite imagery and signals.

The ionosphere is particularly active in polar areas, creating a more difficult environment to get a satellite signal. The researchers hope to gain more knowledge as to how the ionosphere more specifically affects satellites, and how to move around these obstacles to create satellite augmentation in this area.

Model of the 2003 Halloween solar storm on October 30.  Source: University of Bath.

Model of the 2003 Halloween solar storm on October 30. Source: University of Bath.

The Norwegian vessel is testing potential improvements to the Satellite-Based Augmentation System, or SBAS, for these northern regions. This project would utilize ground monitoring stations in Russia and combine them with the northernmost ground monitoring stations for EGNOS. The research crew hopes that their new information will help expand GPS in the polar regions to overlap with Europe, Russia, and the United States.

More: Precision satnav in the far north, European Space Agency



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