The System: GLONASS Heaves Three Aloft

January 1, 2010  - By

The Russian space agency Roscosmos launched a venerable Proton rocket carrying three GLONASS-M satellites into orbit on December 14. Each 3,000-pound satellite is designed to last seven years. They join a constellation numbering 19 satellites, although only 16 are healthy.

Russian politicians and satnav system managers had hoped to launch six satellites between September and December, to attain a global service level, which requires 24 satellites, eight each in three orbital planes.

However, a payload glitch found aboard one recent satellite after its launch into space forced a return to the factory of three satellites scheduled for launch in September. The three put into orbit this week will now only bolster continuing GLONASS coverage of Russian sovereign territory, which requires 18 operating spacecraft.
The next GLONASS launch is now scheduled for a February 11–20, 2010, window.

The Block 41 GLONASS-M satellites (Nos. 30, 33, and 34) have been placed in Plane 1, which currently has only four healthy satellites. According to Roscosmos, communication has been established with all of the satellites and performance is nominal.

Next Up. Nikolay Testoedov, head of the Reshetnev satellite manufacturing company, said his enterprise plans to produce 17 more GLONASS-M satellites between now and 2013.
“The preproduction flight tests of new series of GLONASS satellites, GLONASS-K, will start in 2011,” said Andrei Buravin, vice head of Russian Institute of Space Device Engineering. The preproduction flight tests of GLONASS-K will be performed together with Reshetnev company.

It is still unclear whether the next-generation of GLONASS satellites will be launched via blocks of three satellites with Proton rockets from Baikonur, or via blocks of two satellites with Soyuz rockets from Plesetsk.

RTCM Supports Loran

It may be moot by the time you read this — the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) could unplug Loran on January 4 — but the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services (RTCM) wrote to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in support of continuing and enhancing Loran service.

The letter asserts that it cannot be accurately certified that termination of the operation of the Loran-C signal will not adversely affect the safety of maritime navigation — counter to opinion issued by the USCG Commandant. The RTCM president states that the Loran-C infrastructure is needed to complete the eLoran system to serve as a backup to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).

New Technique. Researchers have developed a technique to demonstrate a low-cost backward-compatible way to exploit eLoran to make GPS more robust. The method paves a way for the average GPS user to become a GPS+eLoran user. Go to for the letter and other Loran stories.

Galileo Contract Award Imminent

A contract award for at least eight of the in-orbit validation satellites had been promised for the end of this year by the European Commission (EC), but as this magazine goes to press on December 16, no official announcement has surfaced.

An unconfirmed report in early December claimed that the European Commission and European Space Agency had awarded a contract for eight Galileo satellites to underdog bidder OHB Technology of Germany. However, this report was privately denied and in fact refuted by an EC representative.

The OHB-led consortium includes small-satellite specialist Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Britain, which built and continues to operate the GIOVE-A satellite, Galileo’s first launch. The competing Astrium-Thales Alenia consortium built the second Galileo satellite now in orbit, GIOVE-B.

The report, published on December 4 on the Space News website, asserted that “the European Commission has selected OHB Technology of Germany to build at least eight Galileo navigation and positioning satellites for about 350 million euros ($525 million) in a decision that postpones any award to competitor Astrium Satellites pending further negotiations with Astrium.” Reporter Peter de Selding cites industry officials as his sources.

An EC representative privately denied the report, asserting “it is not true.” An industry source said “It is not confirmed, we are waiting for the decision.”

The rumor created an uproar in the German state of Bavaria, a center for that country’s aerospace industry and government-aided research. Astrium had reportedly planned to perform much of its Galileo work in that region, and the Space News story holds out the expectation that “political pressure will be applied to reverse the ruling in the coming days.” The region is already home to the Galileo Control Center at a German Aerospace Agency (DLR) site.

Block Approach. The two consortia have been negotiating their bids on the contract with the commission and its technical adviser, the European Space Agency (ESA), for 15 months. Initially, the two European Union bodies set a contract ceiling of 840 million euros to build 28 Galileo satellites; un the past few months they revised the total order to 22 satellites and asked for bids for eight, 14, and 22 satellites. Reportedly, there are price ceilings for each of the three potential order sizes — around 400 million euros for eight satellites, 650 million euros for 14 satellites, and 840 million euros for all 22.

Repeatedly postponed throughout its conceptual phase, the Galileo system now — officially, at least — hopes to achieve initial operational capability by 2014.

Whether or not the Space News report is eventually substantiated, the central European government has already signaled in multiple ways its dissatisfaction with its various member states’ aerospace industry giants, whom it holds responsible for the protracted dysfunctionality of the now-abandoned public-private partnership to build Galileo. The EC has largely wrested control of the satellite award process away from its space agency, and indicated that it intends to maintain a firm grip on the purse strings.

Application Days: Galileo Application Days are set for March 3–5, 2010, in Brussels, Belgium, with live demonstrations of cutting-edge applications developed for GNSS under the European Union’s 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7), former ESNC Competitions, the ESA Technology Transfer Programme, and national and regional initiatives. See for details.

Opinion: GPS L2P(Y) Phase Shift Causes Needless Consternation

Roughly three years ago, the U.S. military conducted the first flex-power test on the L2 GPS codeless signal. Almost immediately, the civilian GPS community expressed concern that future changes to the L2P(Y) signal power levels might cause a signal phase shift; such a phase shift would be incompatible with equipment using the P(Y) signals in a codeless/semicodeless fashion for extremely accurate positioning applications.

Civilian users were naturally upset because they had invested millions of dollars in systems that might not be usable — even if the unusable periods were of a very short duration.
The National Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Executive Committee responded by tasking the National PNT Engineering Forum (NPEF) to look at the problem. Within a few months, the NPEF announced a solution: flex power could be used in such a manner that it would not cause a phase shift. At the same time, the military reminded civilian users that the codeless use of L2P(Y), as accurate as it might be, was never intended and should not be a long-term solution.

An agreement was reached between the U.S. government and civilian users that the civilian users of this codeless/semicodeless technique would migrate from using the L2P(Y) carrier to using the new L2C signal to achieve not only the same, but better results. To codify this agreement, a Federal Register Notice was issued in 2008 identifying the terms of this agreement, which guaranteed the phase stability of the current L2P(Y) signal until 2020. This gives civilian users 12 years to figure out a migration plan and to obtain adequate use of the equipment they already have on hand.

In addition, 2020 is not a drop-dead date, but a date when the use of L2P(Y) codeless signals will no longer be guaranteed, though may well still work. Who knows what PNT advancements will take place between now and then? This could very well be a moot point by then, and in my opinion should be one now.

Problem Solved? Apparently not. A lag between the issuance of this national policy and analogous adjustments to interface specifications caused consternation within the civilian community. Misunderstandings added to this perceived impasse. Various solutions were identified to work around this looming quandary. However, given the national policy to support codeless/semicodeless use until 2020, the Air Force Space Command commitment to that policy, and the recommendations of the NPEF, these solutions seem wholly unnecessary to me.

The U.S. government has gone well beyond what is required to insure civilian codeless and semi-codeless users are accommodated.

For the foreseeable future, users will be able to employ L2P(Y) codeless/semicodeless techniques for very accurate position determination and will not have to worry about phase shifts disrupting their work.

— Don Jewell, GPS World Defense PNT Contributing Editor

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