U.S. Army funded research states SpaceX Starlink could be an alternative to GPS

U.S. Army funded research states SpaceX Starlink could  be an alternative to GPS

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SpaceX is deploying its Starlink satellite broadband internet constellation in low Earth orbit to offer service in rural areas around the world. To date, there are around 708 internet-beaming satellites operating at an altitude of approximately 550-kilometers. Initially, SpaceX plans to deploy 4,409 satellites to space. To connect to the network, customers will use dish terminals and a Wi-Fi router. According to SpaceX officials, Starlink has offered low-latency, high-speed broadband internet. The ongoing beta tests initial results show the satellites are capable of beaming internet with latency below 30 milliseconds with download speeds greater than 100 megabits per second. The company aims to roll-out service in portions of Canada and United States before this year ends. 

The United States Air Force, including U.S. Space Force, is actively testing the Starlink network's performance since last year. During a live-fire exercise that took place early September, Starlink was assessed on a variety of military platforms. U.S. Air Force Chief for Acquisition Dr. Will Roper, who serves as the principal adviser for technology research and development, met with reporters to discuss a live-fire military exercise. -"What I've seen from Starlink has been impressive and positive,” he told reporters. “They're cleverly engineered satellites cleverly deployed. So, there's a lot to learn from how they're designed and I think that there's a lot we can learn from them.” Roper shared that the Air Force connected Starlink to a “variety of air and terrestrial assets”. Starlink terminals are hooked to the cockpit of a Boeing (BA) KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft to assess the network’s performance while the airplanes fly.

Upon military assessment, MIT Technology Review reports the U.S. Army funded additional Starlink research to collaborate with researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. The research focuses on alternative ways the Starlink satellites could be used.
“They told me the Army has a relationship with SpaceX [it signed an agreement to test Starlink to move data across military networks in May] and would I be interested in talking to SpaceX about using their Starlink satellites...?” Todd Humphreys of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin told reporters. --“That got us an audience with people at SpaceX, who liked it, and the Army gave us a year to look into the problem.”

According to a non-peer-reviewed paper, Humphreys and Peter Iannucci of the Radionavigation Laboratory state they have determined the Starlink satellites operating in low Earth orbit could provide an 'unjammable' alternative to Global Navigation Services, GPS. "Anticipation is building for commercial broadband Internet services provided by mega-constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit. Such services’ global reach, low latency, and wide bandwith situate them to revolutionize broadband communications. This paper seeks to establish a less-obvious assertion: In addition to broadband service, these constellations could revolutionize satellite-based positioning, navigation, and timing," the paper reads. "Their space vehicles are far nearer and more numerous than those of traditional global navigation satellite systems in medium Earth orbit or geostationary orbit, and their communications transponders have both exceedingly high gain and access to a vast allocation of spectrum."


The paper describes in great technical detail, a system that utilizes the Starlink satellites working alongside traditional GPS signals to deliver precise location signals more accurate and faster than current GPS. Read the research paper published by the University of Texas at Austin: Fused Low Earth Orbit Global Navigation Satellite Systems 


About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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