One of the GNSS controversies of the past year ended, not with a bang nor with a whimper, but like the fog, silently creeping away on its little cat feet. The UK patent applications against the interoperative GPS/Galileo signal design appear to have been dropped.
Vague rumblings emerged throughout spring and summer this year that two British technologists, backed by the U.K. Ministry Defense, had filed patents on the future interoperable GPS and Galileo binary-offset carrier signal designs. If granted and enforced, the patents would have severely disrupted modernization plans for both systems and levied unexpected costs upon receiver manufacturers. A company called Ploughshare Innovations Ltd. started contacting manufacturers and asking for payment of royalties, based on the patent filings.
After significant uproar and negotiations before and behind the scenes, it now appears that the initiative has been quietly scuttled. The U.S. Patent Office file on application number 11/774,412, Modulation Signals for a Satellite Navigation System, on the Patent Office’s website, now reads “Expressly Abandoned — During Examination.” The status is dated September 16, 2012, some time ago, but none of the parties involved, whether as filers or negotiators, has made any public announcement about it.
Both Sides Now. Checking the European Patent Office and its registry — which is no trivial task of website navigation — turns up a note, dated September 24, under the docket for EP1830199, Modulations Signals for a Satellite Navigation System. The note states “Patent surrendered.” A few days later, another note: “Lapsed in a contracting state announced via postgrant inform. From Nat. Office to EPO,” with further information to the effect of “lapse because of failure to submit a translation or the description or to pay the fee within the prescribed time limit.”
For good measure, a final docket note on October 3: “Lapsed due to resignation by the proprietor.”
Lockheed Martin Logs Enviro OK on GPS III Sat
The Lockheed Martin team developing the U.S. Air Force’s GPS III satellites has completed thermal vacuum testing for the Navigation Payload Element (NPE) of the GPS III Non-Flight Satellite Testbed (GNST). The milestone is one of several environmental tests verifying the navigation payload’s quality of workmanship and increased performance compared to the current generation of satellites.
During thermal vacuum testing, the navigation payload’s performance was proven in a vacuum environment at the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will experience on orbit to ensure it will operate as planned once in space. Following the test, the NPE will now be integrated with the GNST for final satellite level testing.
The GNST is a full-sized prototype of a GPS III satellite used to identify and solve development issues prior to integration and test of the first space vehicle. The approach significantly reduces risk, improves production predictability, increases mission assurance and lowers overall program costs. Following integration and test at Lockheed Martin’s GPS Processing Facility (GPF) near Denver, the GNST will be shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for risk reduction activities at the launch site.
Lockheed Martin is on contract to deliver the first four GPS III satellites for launch. The Air Force plans to purchase up to 32 GPS III satellites.
Galileo IOV Satellites in Position
The Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellites launched on October 12 (Flight Model 3 and 4), have now been positioned in their designated orbits, according to tracking data from the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center. A plot of the IOV constellation is now available at http://gge.unb.ca/test/Galileo.argper.690.432000.pdf.
The four IOV satellites are in two orbital planes separated by about 120 degrees. Within each plane, the satellites are separated by about 40 degrees. This orbital arrangement will allow the four satellites to be simultaneously tracked for periods of time by GNSS monitoring stations, permitting positioning tests using only IOV data to be carried out. However, no signals from FM3 or FM4 have yet been detected by stations of the International GNSS Service.