The GPS Network Suffers from Vulnerabilities; LEO Satellites May Fix Them

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The Global Positioning System’s vulnerabilities to spoofing, jamming and interference are well documented. With billions of people and companies around the world depending on the 24-satellite system for navigation and synchronization, it has become abundantly clear that new solutions are needed.

Ohio State University researchers are looking to hybrid positioning using low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to complement GPS for an answer. In a separate article in this issue, the European Space Agency is looking at 5G signals as a complement to Global Navigation Satellite Systems to navigate drones.

OSU engineering researchers have developed a method to use signals broadcast by Starlink internet service satellites to locate a position here on Earth, similar to GPS. The work is being done through a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which created the Center for Automated Vehicles Research with Multimodal AssurEd Navigation (CARMEN) at OSU.

Seeking a way to verify that the information provided by a navigation device is correct, researchers compared the Starlink signals against GPS to ensure accuracy of the latter. Signals from six Starlink satellites were used to pinpoint a location on Earth within 7.7 meters of accuracy.

The researchers did not need assistance from SpaceX to use the satellite signals or access to the actual data, according to OSU. They only needed information related to the satellite’s location and movement. An algorithm was developed that could use the signals of multiple satellites to locate a position on Earth. Then, they set up an antenna on the campus of University of California, Irvine and used the network to find the antenna’s location.

“We eavesdropped on the signal, and then we designed sophisticated algorithms to pinpoint our location, and we showed that it works with great accuracy,” said Zak Kassas, director of the CARMEN. “And even though Starlink wasn’t designed for navigation purposes, we showed that it was possible to learn parts of the system well enough to use it for navigation.”

SpaceX, which has 1,700 satellites in low earth orbit, plans to launch more than 40,000 satellites.

By J. Sharpe Smith Inside Towers Technology Editor

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