Locata Tests Lead to Air Force Contract for Non-GPS Positioning System

December 12, 2012  - By
Google Earth depiction of the USAF LocataNet test bed deployed at the White Sands Missile Range.

Locata Corporation today announced the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has signed a sole-source, multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to install the U.S. military’s first revolutionary ground-based LocataNet positioning system at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The USAF will field Locata’s new technology for extremely accurate “reference truth” positioning across a vast area of White Sands when GPS is being completely jammed.

In a recent USAF technical report, the need for a new non-GPS based positioning capability was described by the 746th Test Squadron as the key component for “the realization of the new ‘gold standard truth system’ for the increasingly demanding test and evaluation of future navigation systems for the U.S. Department of Defense.” Locata is the new technology now contracted to enable this capability for the USAF’s future truth reference, the Ultra High-Accuracy Reference System (UHARS).

The report documented extensive testing of Locata’s new capabilities when a LocataNet covering 1,350 square miles (3,500 square kms) was first deployed at White Sands. The USAF and the 746th Test Squadron proved a LocataNet can accurately position USAF aircraft over a large area when GPS is denied. Locata delivered accurate independent positioning as good as, or better than, the USAF’s current CIGTF Reference System (CRS). The Locata non-GPS based positioning capability is core to the UHARS that will now replace the CRS in 2014.

After the exhaustive aircraft testing, the USAF concluded that the Locata system had not only met the extremely demanding contractual tracking and positioning requirements, but actually exceeded them on many points. Some of the milestones documented and confirmed by the USAF included:

  • The USAF report documented LocataNet position accuracy of 2.5 inches (6cm) horizontally and 6 inches (15 cm) vertically – about the size of a dollar bill – for aircraft flying at a distance of 30 miles (50km) at up to 350 mph (550 km/hr) at 25,000 feet, without GPS.
  • Throughout the period of the testing, the entire White Sands network achieved nanosecond-accurate synchronization within several minutes of the LocataNet being activated, and remained synchronized even during severe weather until turned off at the end of each test.
  • The USAF tests showed that a stock standard Locata transmitter – the same unit used in commercial applications like mining – could have an amplifier attached to easily boost signals for long-range reception. By attaching a simple, inexpensive 10 watt amplifier, the USAF proved that Locata signals could be acquired and tracked by aircraft at distances of up to 60 miles (100 km). Longer distances could be enabled by attaching higher-powered amplifiers.
  • Before to the White Sands flight trials, commercial Locata systems had only been used to position ground-based vehicles, such as cars, trucks, bulldozers and drill rigs in local areas. For the USAF tests, however, the Locata system needed to function under dynamic aircraft operating maneuvers, including banking, angular and linear accelerations, airspeeds up to 300 knots (560 km/hr), and altitudes up to 30,000 feet above sea level. The required aircraft performance was verified in the real-world testing.
  • The USAF required Locata to design, prototype and then deliver aircraft-certified antennas for use on both the Locata ground-based transmitters and the USAF aircraft. Locata worked with Cooper Antennas Ltd. of Marlow in Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom, to produce an aircraft-certified version of Locata’s new quadrifilar helix antenna design. The Cooper manufactured antennas were used throughout the tests with excellent results, and confirmed Locata’s research and analysis.

“Locata Corp delivered a LocataNet for use in our October 2011 technical demonstration on White Sands Missile Range that provided time and position truth, independent of GPS, that was better than 18 cm (6 inches) per axis while flying at 15,000 and 20,000 foot above mean sea level profiles,” said Christopher Morin, technical director for the 746 Test Squadron. “The solutions provided by the LocataNet were within the accuracy tolerance of the squadron’s CIGTF Reference System and met our threshold objectives. Further analysis has shown that if we optimize the LocataNet deployment, characterize its errors and tightly couple its range and carrier-phase measurements with the other GPS and inertial components on the UHARS pallet into the UHARS solution post-processing software, I am confident we will be able to meet our 5-cm (2-inch) per axis truth reference objective. I am very pleased with the LocataNet’s demonstrated ability to produce an accurate, dynamic truth reference from the relatively static implementation they had already deployed in the mining industry.”

“Locata products developed and sold by important commercial partners like Hexagon and Leica Geosystems have already shown our new technology is a game-changer for positioning over industrial-sized areas,” said Nunzio Gambale, CEO and co-founder of Locata. “However, proving Locata can provide the USAF with centimeter-accurate non-GPS positioning over a vast military area when GPS is jammed instantly elevates our technology achievements into a completely new league. It’s important to grasp the scale of what we’ve done here. The 2,500 square mile LocataNet at White Sands will be 74 times the size of Manhattan Island. It must be clear, our ability to deliver centimeter-level (inch-level) positioning over an area that large, without using GPS satellites, is both unique and totally revolutionary. No one else on Earth can do this. Many valuable industrial and consumer apps will now be built around our amazing inventions, created by Locata’s co-founder David Small and our brilliant engineers.”

“This contract makes it clear you are witnessing the arrival of one of the most important technology developments for the future of the entire positioning industry,” Gambale declared.

Under this new contract Locata will provide the USAF with Locata receivers and LocataLite transmitters to blanket 2,500 square miles (6,500 sq km) of the White Sands Range. Locata will also:

a)     deliver extended hardware warranty, along with ongoing Locata software and firmware upgrades, through to the year 2025;

b)     supply multi-year support for the installation, fielding and testing of Locata networks; and

c)     provide long-term consultation and expert technical advice to ensure optimal operational performance of the USAF’s fielded LocataNet systems.

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GPS World staff

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