The International GNSS Service MGEX Campaign
By Oliver Montenbruck, Chris Rizos, Robert Weber, Georg Weber, Ruth Neilan, and Urs Hugentobler
GPS IS ALMOST 40 YEARS OLD. While mass consumer use of GPS began only within the past decade or so, GPS was “born” during the Labor Day weekend of 1973, when about a dozen military officers and industry analysts under the leadership of Brad Parkinson met to consolidate the concept for a single satellite-based navigation system for the U.S. Department of Defense. Their proposal for NAVSTAR GPS was approved on December 22, 1973. The first satellite to be launched under the GPS program, on July 14, 1974, was the Naval Research Laboratory’s Navigation Technology Satellite (NTS) 1. NTS-2 followed, with a launch on June 23, 1977. These satellites carried payload components similar to those to be used on the subsequent GPS Block I or Navigation Technology Satellites. The first Block I satellite was launched on February 22, 1978, and was followed by nine others. With the launch of the Block II and IIA Operational Satellites and with 24 satellites on orbit, Initial Operational Capability was declared on December 8, 1993. Following testing, Full Operational Capability (FOC) was announced on July 17, 1995.
Whether in reaction to the development of GPS or simply to fulfill the requirement for a system with similar capabilities for its armed forces, the former Soviet Union developed the Global’naya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema or GLONASS. The first GLONASS satellite was launched on October 12, 1982. By early 1996, a fully populated FOC constellation of 24 satellites was in orbit, but the number of operational satellites dwindled to a handful due to lack of financial support. Eventually the needed funds started flowing again and on December 8, 2011, FOC was again achieved and subsequently maintained.
With the announcement of FOC and the removal of the accuracy-limiting policy of Selective Availability on May 2, 2000, widespread consumer use of GPS took off.
And now GPS is approaching middle age. And like for some humans approaching that milestone desirous of change, a GPS renewal or modernization is under way. New civil and military signals are being transmitted by the Block IIR-M and IIF satellites along with the legacy signals pioneered by the Block I satellites. And new GNSS signals are now coming from the satellites orbited for the Chinese BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, and Europe’s Galileo, as well as those from satellite-based augmentation systems. Although it will be some years before full constellations will be transmitting these signals, scientists and engineers are already monitoring and analyzing the new signals to learn how best to use them and how to integrate subsets of them for a wide variety of applications in positioning, navigation, and timing.
In this month’s column, we learn the details of the effort established by the International GNSS Service to support the study of these new signals: the Multi-GNSS Experiment.
“Innovation” is a regular feature that discusses advances in GPS technology andits applications as well as the fundamentals of GPS positioning. The column is coordinated by Richard Langley of the Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering, University of New Brunswick. He welcomes comments and topic ideas. To contact him, see the “Contributing Editors” section on page 4.
Over the past four decades, GPS has evolved from a primarily military navigation system into an indispensable tool not only for society at large, but also for geodetic research and global monitoring of the Earth. And within the past decade, the world of satellite navigation has experienced dramatic changes. With GLONASS, a second GNSS has achieved full operational status; GPS is introducing modernized civil and encrypted navigation signals; and a variety of new navigation constellations are being built up in Asia and Europe.
As of early 2013, Europe has successfully launched a total of four Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellites, which are undergoing testing in parallel to the build up and verification of the ground segment. The satellites routinely transmit signals at four frequencies (E1, E5a, E5b, and E6) and offer a variety of publicly accessible pilot and data signals. As a unique feature, Galileo enables tracking of the alternative binary-offset-carrier (AltBOC) signal in the combined E5a+E5b band, which offers superior noise and multipath performance.
Meanwhile, the Chinese BeiDou Satellite Navigation System (BDS; formerly known as Compass) has completed the first stage of its system deployment and declared a regional navigation service for the Asia-Pacific region operational. A total of 14 functioning satellites have been launched so far, which includes five satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO), five satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit (IGSO), and four in medium-altitude Earth orbit (MEO). These satellites transmit signals in three frequency bands (B1, B2, B3), and tracking of the corresponding open service (OS) signals is already supported by a variety of GNSS receivers. With the release of a B1 OS Interface Control Document (ICD) at the end of 2012, the BeiDou navigation message has become publicly accessible, and users throughout the Asia-Pacific region can now benefit from BeiDou as a supplementary or stand-alone navigation system.
The Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) has, so far, only launched a single satellite but recent political decisions have paved the way for the build up of a mini-constellation of IGSO and GEO satellites. Aside from a high level of compatibility with GPS, QZSS has introduced new signals such as the modernized L1 Civil (L1C) signal and the L-band Experiment (LEX) signal (also known as L6) for high-precision point positioning in the E6 band. Along with this unique set of navigation signals, QZSS provides innovative service features such as the L1 Sub-meter-class Augmentation with Integrity Function (L1-SAIF or L1S) message. Also, QZSS precedes GPS in offering the new Civil Navigation (CNAV) message on L2C and L5, as well as the CNAV2 message on L1C. Long before their planned use in GPS, these messages are now broadcast on a routine basis and contain novel information such as inter-frequency corrections and Earth-orientation parameters.
Last, but not least, GPS has now a total of four Block IIF satellites in orbit that transmit an operational L5 signal for aviation users (and others) and which fly a new generation of highly stable rubidium clocks. While neither L2C nor L5 are transmitted by a full constellation, users and investigators can gradually familiarize themselves with these new signals that will enable encryption-free dual-frequency navigation services for aeronautical and other civil applications.
Within the International GNSS Service (IGS), more than 200 worldwide agencies have, for many years, pooled resources and permanent GNSS station data to generate precise GNSS products in support of Earth science research, multidisciplinary applications, and education. So far, this service has been restricted to two systems — namely, GPS and GLONASS. In recognition of the rapidly evolving GNSS landscape, the IGS has set up the Multi-GNSS Experiment (MGEX) to explore and promote the use of new navigation signals and constellations. It will enable an early familiarization with new GNSS, identify and overcome relevant challenges, and prepare use of emerging navigation systems in routine IGS products. MGEX comprises the build-up of a new network of sensor stations, the characterization of the user equipment and space segment, the development of new concepts and data processing tools, and the generation of early data products for Galileo, QZSS, and BeiDou. MGEX is coordinated by the IGS Multi-GNSS Working Group (MGWG), which interacts closely with other IGS entities, such as the RINEX WG, the Antenna WG, the Data Center WG, and the Infra-structure Committee.
The article starts out with a description of the MGEX network that formed the starting point and initial focus of the overall MGEX project. Following a description of system characterization activities, the current status of multi-GNSS data products and ongoing efforts for the development of new standards for multi-GNSS-related work within the IGS are presented.
Following a call-for-participation released in the summer of 2011, the build up of a new international network of multi-GNSS sensor stations was initiated and has grown substantionally in a short time. By the end of 2012, the MGEX network had comprised approximately 50 stations supporting at least one of the new navigation systems (Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS) in addition to the legacy GPS, GLONASS, and SBAS systems. At last count, the network now includes 75 stations.
The bulk of the stations is provided by IGS partners such as Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie (BKG), Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Geoscience Australia (GA), the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI), Institut National de l’Information Géographique et Forestière (IGN), and the Swedish National Land Survey (Lantmaeteriverket, LMV), that have upgraded existing sites with new, multi-GNSS-capable receivers and antennas or started to deploy new multi-GNSS networks (such as the COperative Network for GNSS Observation (CONGO) or CNES’s REseau GNSS pour l’IGS et la Navigation (REGINA) network).
As shown in FIGURE 1, the present set of MGEX stations exhibits almost global coverage, even though a concentration in Europe and a reduced coverage in the Americas and the western Pacific are obvious. However, this situation is expected to improve soon with announced contributions from Geoscience Australia, the Multi-GNSS Monitoring Network (MGM-net) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and other stations. While most MGEX sites support tracking of Galileo satellites, only a subset of stations provides data for QZSS and BeiDou. In particular, the regional BeiDou constellation (that is, the GEO and IGSO) satellites are not well covered by the current network.
Further MGEX sites are encouraged and the nomination of sites is still possible through the MGEX submission form under the provision of relevant improvements to the capabilities, coverage, and homogeneity of the overall network.
In terms of equipment, five basic receiver types and seven basic antenna types are employed at the MGEX stations (see TABLES 1 and 2). Observation types provided by the individual receivers have been compiled from summary reports generated by the Astronomical Institute of the University of Bern (AIUB) as part of their routine monitoring of RINEX 3 observation files from MGEX stations.
Note that no common standard has yet evolved in terms of supported signals and observation types. This causes certain restrictions for data analysis and product generation. As an example, Galileo orbit and clock products will (at least initially) be based on E1/E5a observations due to a limited coverage of E5b and E5ab tracking.
Selected sites (such as UNB and USNO) offer multiple receivers in short- or zero-baseline configurations to facilitate equipment characterization. Further such installations will be added to the MGEX network at the time of the proposed extensions.
While all stations contribute data to offline archives hosted by the Crustal Dynamics Data Information Service (CDDIS), IGN, and BKG for the MGEX project, a selected subset also supports real-time analyses (see FIGURE 2). All real-time streams utilize the Networked Transport of RTCM via Internet Protocol (NTRIP), which has emerged as a standard for real-time GNSS data exchange. A dedicated MGEX caster is hosted by BKG in Frankfurt, where native raw data streams received from the individual sites are converted and encoded in the RTCM3 Multiple-Signal-Message (MSM) format.
RTCM3-MSM will enable a harmonized framework for multi-GNSS real-time operations and ensure a seamless conversion to the RINEX3 offline data format. The new MGEX NTRIP caster provides a basis to gain early experience with the new MSM format and facilitates a timely adaptation of user software. This is further supported through freeware software modules for data conversion provided by BKG.
While a systematic quality control of the MGEX data has not yet started, first performance assessments of both the ground and space segment have been reported in the literature (see Further Reading). Overall, the measurement quality of the employed multi-GNSS receivers is found to be comparable or even superior to established GPS reference stations. A high performance is, in particular, obtained for unencrypted signals with high chipping rates and bandwidths such as the GPS/QZSS L5 and Galileo AltBOC.
By way of example, FIGURE 3 illustrates the elevation-angle-dependency of pseudorange errors for BeiDou tracking with a Trimble NetR9 receiver as used at numerous MGEX stations. Aside from the expected variation of receiver noise, the analysis reveals a systematic code bias that varies by 0.4-0.6 meters from horizon to zenith and can best be attributed to spacecraft internal multipath.
An interesting opportunity for system characterization is provided by triple-frequency observations (GPS+QZSS L1/L2/L5, BeiDou B1/B2/B3, Galileo E1/E5a/E5b) made available by a subset of the MGEX network. A thermal variation of inter-frequency biases has earlier been identified for the GPS Block IIF satellites, but a high level of consistency is demonstrated for QZSS, BeiDou, and Galileo (see FIGURE 4).
While the newly established MGEX network forms a mandatory prerequisite for multi-GNSS work within the IGS, the MGEX campaign supports a wider range of activities, which are now being established. Foremost, the generation of orbit and clock products for the new constellations is promoted in coordination with new and established IGS analysis centers.
Initial Galileo IOV products have been provided by CNES/CLS, CODE, and GFZ since mid-2012, and a combined Galileo+QZSS product has been added by Technische Universität München (TUM). Aside from the MGEX network, some of these solutions make complementary use of proprietary multi-GNSS networks to compensate existing coverage limitations and achieve an improved product quality.
TABLE 3 compares selected MGEX orbit products for the Galileo IOV satellites, while FIGURE 5 shows a time series of the difference between the TUM and CODE orbit products for IOV-1 (E11).
TABLE 4 shows the residuals of Galileo IOV-1/2 satellite laser ranging measurements (mean ± standard deviation) relative to the GNSS-based orbit products (days of year (DOY) 323-329, 2012).
FIGURE 6 shows a time series of the differences between TUM orbit products for QZS-1 and precise ephemerides computed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for DOY 027-033, 2013. It demonstrates consistency at the 0.5-meter level, which already represents an important accomplishment, given the sparse subset of QZSS-capable MGEX stations available at the time. Further improvements are expected as the MGEX network continues to grow.
Concerning the Chinese BeiDou system, which has now reached initial operational capability for a regional service, early orbit and clock determination results have been reported by various Chinese and European researchers using data from dedicated regional sensor station networks. An effort will be made to promote the extension of the BeiDou tracking capabilities within the MGEX network and to make MGEX-only or mixed network-based orbit and clock products for BeiDou accessible to a wider user community through the MGEX data centers.
Given the late public availability of Galileo and BeiDou broadcast navigation messages, the MGEX orbit and clock products constitute a significant promotion for the early use of all available navigation systems. Aside from initial positioning experiments, they provide a basis for the in-depth characterization of both the space and user segment, and, it is hoped, will facilitate an improved interaction with system providers. Early applications of MGEX multi-GNSS products and observations have, for example, been reported at conferences and in journals (see Further Reading).
In support of MGEX, the Multi-GNSS WG interacts closely with other IGS working groups to coordinate data formats, processing standards, and applicable models for use in multi-GNSS work. Examples include necessary RINEX 3 and RTCM3 extensions for full support of new GNSS signals and tracking modes as well as the rapidly growing set of diverse broadcast navigation data.
Another focus of current work addresses the proper modeling of antenna offsets and phase patterns for receiver and satellite antennas, along with documentation of constellation-specific spacecraft coordinate systems and attitude modes. This work is performed in close coordination with the IGS Antenna WG. Among others, conventional antenna phase center offsets (see TABLE 5) have been agreed upon, which will enable consistent processing of MGEX observations until the release of official information by the Galileo and BeiDou program offices.
As a central point for exchange of MGEX-related information with the user community, a dedicated website has been established at the IGS Central Bureau (see FIGURE 7). The new website provides an overview of available MGEX data and products with direct links to the respective archives at IGS data and product centers. Furthermore, users are provided with up-to-date information on the status of the emerging navigation satellite systems as well as recommended parameters (such as antenna offsets) for harmonized and consistent processing of MGEX observations.
Through individual members, the Multi-GNSS WG is represented on other boards and bodies such as the International Committee on GNSS, the International Association of Geodesy, and the Multi-GNSS Asia project.
Summary and Conclusions
As part of its continued effort to provide the highest quality data and products for all satellite navigation systems, the IGS has initiated the Multi-GNSS Experiment. MGEX supports early work with new signals and constellations. It enables a timely preparation of IGS analysis centers as well as the user community to expand from GPS/GLONASS towards full multi-GNSS processing.
Within the first year of MGEX, substantial progress has already been made. In particular, a global network of multi-GNSS receivers has been established in parallel with the existing core IGS network and by upgrading existing sites with new multi-GNSS equipment. The MGEX network forms the backbone for all other activities, such as system characterization and product generation. Aside from offline data provisions, a substantial fraction of MGEX stations are already offering real-time data streams, which paves the way for a rapid extension of the upcoming IGS real-time pilot service to Galileo and possibly other constellations. A limited number of analysis centers have already started to provide orbit and clock products for Galileo and/or QZSS as a basis for precise positioning applications. In addition to initial positioning experiments, they will provide a basis for the in-depth characterization of both the space and user segment, and help facilitate an improved interaction with system providers.
Upcoming activities will focus on the systematic incorporation of the BeiDou navigation satellite system. While BeiDou is the third constellation to reach an operational system status after GPS and GLONASS, it is not well covered by the current MGEX tracking network. Along with the targeted incorporation of BeiDou-capable reference stations (particularly in the Asia-Pacific region), the generation and provision of related orbit and clock products will be promoted to facilitate a timely use of BeiDou by the geodetic community.
Subject to active participation by a sufficient number of analysis centers, the MGEX project will eventually transition into an IGS pilot project offering operational data products of Galileo, QZSS, and BeiDou within the next few years.
OLIVER MONTENBRUCK is the head of the GNSS Technology and Navigation Group at DLR’s German Space Operations Center. He chairs the IGS Multi-GNSS Working Group and coordinates the MGEX Multi-GNSS Experiment.
CHRIS RIZOS is a professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; president of the International Association of Geodesy; co-chair of the Multi-GNSS Asia Steering Committee; and a member of the executive and governing board of the IGS.
ROBERT WEBER is an associate professor at the Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation, TU Vienna, and former chair of the IGS GNSS Working Group.
GEORG WEBER is the scientific director in the Department of Geodesy at the German Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy (BKG). He is a member of the IGS Real-time Working Group and the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime (RTCM) Services Special Committee (SC) 104 on Differential Global Navigation Satellite Systems (DGNSS).
RUTH NEILAN is the director of the Central Bureau of the IGS, vice-chair of the Global Geodetic Observing System Coordinating Board, and co-chair of Working Group D, Reference Frames, Timing and Applications, of the United Nation’s International Committee on GNSS.
URS HUGENTOBLER is a professor at the Institute of Astronomical and Physical Geodesy, TUM, Munich. He is the chair of the IGS Governing Board.
• The IGS MGEX Campaign
“The IGS MGEX Experiment as a Milestone for a Comprehensive Multi-GNSS Service” by C. Rizos, O. Montenbruck, R. Weber, G. Weber, R. Neilan, and U. Hugentobler in Proceedings of The Institute of Navigation 2013 Pacific PNT Meeting, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 23 –25, 2013, pp. 289–295.
“Multi–GNSS Working Group” by O. Montenbruck in International GNSS Service Technical Report 2012, edited by R. Dach and Y. Jean and published by the IGS Central Bureau, April 2013. Pp. 163–170.
“IGS M-GEX – The IGS Multi-GNSS Global Experiment” by R. Weber, U. Hugentobler, and R. Neilan in Proceedings of the 3rd International Colloquium on Scientific and Fundamental Aspects of the Galileo Programme, Copenhagen, 31 August – 2 September, 2011.
• Initial Monitoring and Analysis Results from MGEX
“CNES Computes Real-Time Decimeter-Accuracy Orbits with Galileo” on GPS World website, May 30, 2013.
“Initial Assessment of the COMPASS/BeiDou-2 Regional Navigation Satellite System” by O. Montenbruck, A. Hauschild, P. Steigenberger, U. Hugentobler, P. Teunissen, and S. Nakamura in GPS Solutions, Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2013, pp. 211–222, doi: 10.1007/s10291-012-0272-x.
“Orbit and Clock Determination of QZS-1 Based on the CONGO Network” by P. Steigenberger, A. Hauschild, O. Montenbruck, C. Rodriguez-Solano, and U. Hugentobler in Navigation – Journal of The Institute of Navigation, Vol. 60, No. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 31–40.
“Galileo IOV-3 Broadcasts E1, E5, E6 Signals” by O. Montenbruck and R. Langley in GPS World, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2013, pp. 18, 27.
“Precise Positioning with Galileo Prototype Satellites: First Results” by R.B. Langley, S. Banville, and P. Steigenberger in GPS World, Vol. 23, No. 9, September 2012, pp. 45–49.
Oral and Poster Presentations at the International GNSS Service Analysis Center Workshop 2012, Olsztyn, Poland, July 23–27, 2012:
- “Curtin and Delft Multi-GNSS M-GEX Stations: Infrastructure and Analysis Tools” by N. Raziq, A. El-Mowafy, P.J.G. Teunissen, A. Nardo, and H. van der Marel. Poster presentation.
- “A COMPASS for Asia: First Experience with the BeiDou-2 Regional Navigation System” by O. Montenbruck, A. Hauschild, P. Steigenberger, U. Hugentobler, and S. Riley. Poster presentation.
- “MGEX Activities at CNES-CLS Analysis Center” by S. Loyer, F. Perosanz, F. Mercier, and H. Capdeville. Poster presentation.
- “MGEX Data Analysis at CODE – First Experiences” by L. Prange, R. Dach, S. Lutz, S. Schaer, M. Meindl, and A. Jäggi. Oral presentation.
- “GFZ’s Global Multi-GNSS Network and First Data Processing Results” by M. Uhlemann, M. Ramatschi, and G. Gendt. Poster presentation.
- “Galileo IOV Orbit Determination and Validation” by S. Hackel, P. Steigenberger, O. Montenbruck, A. Hauschild, and U. Hugentobler. Poster presentation.
• GNSS Signal Structures
Quasi-Zenith Satellite System Navigation Service: Interface Specification for QZSS (IS-QZSS), V1.5, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, March 27, 2013.
BeiDou Navigation Satellite System Signal In Space Interface Control Document – Open Service Signal B1I, Version 1.0, China Satellite Navigation Office, December 2012.
European GNSS (Galileo) Open Service: Signal In Space Interface Control Document, Ref : OS SIS ICD, Issue 1.1, September 2010.
• RTCM and NTRIP Formats
Differential GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) Services, Version 3, RTCM 10403.2, published by Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services, Arlington, Virginia, February 1, 2013.
“The RTCM Multiple Signal Messages: A New Step in GNSS Data Standardization” by A. Boriskin, D. Kozlov, and G. Zyryanov in Proceedings of ION GNSS 2012, the 25th International Technical Meeting of The Satellite Division of the Institute of Navigation, Nashville, Tennessee, September 17–21, 2012, pp. 2947–2955.
“Networked Transport of RTCM via Internet Protocol (Ntrip) – IP-Streaming for Real-time GNSS Applications” by G. Weber, D. Dettmering, H. Gebhard, and R. Kalafus in Proceedings of ION GPS 2005, the 18th International Technical Meeting of the Satellite Division of The Institute of Navigation, Long Beach, California, September 13–16, 2005, pp. 2243–2247.