ESA Helps Prepare Satnav Mass Market for Galileo Services

February 18, 2014  - By
Satellite navigation.

Satellite navigation.

With the first Galileo services set to begin this year, the European Space Agency (ESA) is working directly with European manufacturers of mass-market satnav chips and receivers to ensure that their products are Galileo-ready.

“Our objective is to make sure, ahead of the European Union’s declaration of early Galileo services that mass-market devices are ready and able to make use of them,” explained Riccardo de Gaudenzi, head of ESA’s Radio Frequency Systems, Payload and Technology  Division.

“In coordination with the European GNSS Agency, we put out an open call to satnav manufacturers offering testing with our laboratory facilities. We have gone on to work with five mass-market chipset makers and a comparable number of professional receivers manufacturers.”

Key facilities being used at ESA’s Navigation Laboratory include its state-of-the-art “hybrid localization solution rack,” where receiver chips can be plugged in. This rack generates simulated constellations of Galileo, GPS and other satnav systems along with Wi-Fi or mobile networks which phone-based satnav chips often additionally employ. It can also simulate inputs from the kind of inbuilt gyro-type devices receivers employ for dead reckoning, to continue positioning measurements when satellites are out of view.

Hybrid localization solution rack.

Hybrid localization solution rack.

Another resource is the octobox — a mini anechoic chamber into which phones or mobile devices can be placed, to feed them simulated satnav and cellular network signals.



Testing in the field is carried out with the Lab’s Telecommunications and Navigation Testbed Vehicle. This fully equipped van carries its own extremely accurate receivers to assess the performance of the consumer items being tested.

Whether they are being used for vehicle navigation, shipment navigation, or precision agriculture, the performance of satnav terminals comes down to the specialized chips embedded within them. The same is true of mobile phones, although their chips tend to be optimized for low-power, high-sensitivity operations.Post

Test vehicle.

Test vehicle.

“This is a very useful initiative from our point of view, closing the loop between Galileo and industry,” commented Philip Mattos of ST Microelectronics, whose Teseo-2 receiver chips are used in satnavs and embedded in cars.

“Thanks to earlier collaboration with ESA and the EU, the millions of multi-constellation satnav chips we sell annually have been equipped for Galileo signals since 2009. It will take only a software update to enable them to start using Galileo,” Mattos said. “We have worked a lot with simulated Galileo signals, but this cooperation is allowing us to optimize our software based on access to actual signals and background technical information.”

Combining radio frequency and silicon elements, a single 1-cm square chip can detect signals from multiple satellite constellations — Russia’s GLONASS and China’s BeiDou as well as Galileo and GPS — then convert them into precise positioning measurements.

Beamed across thousands of kilometers of space, the signals are incredibly faint, barely distinguishable from background noise. But a technique called correlation gain synchronizes them with copies of each satellite’s broadcast code stored in the chip’s memory to boost them to usable levels.

Data from other systems, such as in-car accelerometers or gyros, can also be fed into the positioning measurements as desired.

For mass-market single-frequency designs, an ESA-created ionospheric model allows the subtraction of ionospheric delays, its performance coming close to dual-signal standards.

Chips also apply stored ephemerides data embedded in satellite signals — updates on where satellites are positioned in the sky — to speed up acquisition times.

The first four Galileo satellites are already in orbit and operational. Over the course of 2014 six more satellites are planned to join them in three separate Soyuz launches. Galileo initial services are scheduled to start by the end of this year.

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