The U.S. military is a key stakeholder in ongoing efforts to augment the fragile Global Positioning System, prompting for example the launch of a constellation of jam-resistant GPS satellites.
As western government seeks to develop terrestrial backup systems to counter growing interference with vital positioning, navigating and timing (PNT) signals, inertial navigation workarounds are emerging to cope with GPS disruptions. Initially aimed military users, they could eventually be offered commercially.
Honeywell Aerospace, a long-time supplier of inertial navigation gear for military and commercial aircraft, this month unveiled a package of alternative GPS technologies. The passive sensors are aimed at filling gaps when GPS services are disrupted by unintentional and intentional radio-frequency inference.
Over-dependence on GPS and other navigation aids along with growing vulnerabilities including jamming, spoofing and other forms of interference highlight the need for terrestrial backups to current GNSS systems. We take a hard look at the scope of the problem and possible remedies in our upcoming GPS Special Project.
They jam-proof technologies include an infrared camera that compares images with mapping data and a celestial navigation platform similar to those used to voyage to the moon.
The package also includes a novel navigation technology that measures the planet’s magnetic strength, comparing sensor data with magnetic maps to determine an aircraft’s position relative to Earth.
“There is real need for these kinds of [inertial navigation] technologies,” said Thandava Edara, a product manager at Honeywell Aerospace. “By adding one more layer of alternate navigation, we are basically providing the needed redundancy and, of course, high integrity.”
The layered approach includes a vision-based platform that uses infrared cameras, radar and lidar to compare captured images with maps. The passive navigation and timing alternative provides “GPS-like accuracy in GPS-denied or jammed conditions,” the company said.
A throwback approach called “celestial-aided navigation” uses star sightings and “reference objects” such as satellites with known positions and velocities. Comparing those space-based reference points yields GPS-like position, navigation and timing data.
Celestial navigation has been used for centuries to guide explorers across oceans and Apollo astronauts to the moon and back.
The third option uses Earth’s magnetic anomaly field to compute magnetic intensity at different locations. The system then compares those measurements with magnetic anomaly maps.
“When GPS gets disrupted, our inertial systems kick in… to coast through those GPS disruptions” caused by jamming or unintentional interference, Edera said. “Alternate navigation can enable you to continue operations without any disruptions.”
The GPS alternatives have been demonstrated in the field, with prototype systems scheduled for release next year. Honeywell said it expects initial deliveries of GPS alternatives to begin in 2023. Meanwhile, Edera said Honeywell is integrating machine learning capabilities into its next-generation inertial navigation platforms.
While the GPS alternatives are initially aimed at military aircraft and ground vehicles, Honeywell is also eyeing commercial customers as GPS disruptions grow.
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