The Joint Research Centre Tests Alternative Sources of Positioning Navigation and Timing Platforms

The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission recently conducted a performance assessment campaign on seven advanced alternative sources of positioning navigation and timing (A-PNT) platforms. This campaign aimed to evaluate the viability of alternative options to Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) in the commercial market.

GNSS systems are widely used and provide many benefits across various sectors, including transportation, industry, agriculture, and security. However, relying solely on GNSS for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services poses risks in terms of potential disruption. Therefore, the availability of backup or alternative A-PNT sources is a priority.

The European Commission launched a call for tender in December 2020, which led to the assessment campaign at the Joint Research Centre. The results of this campaign demonstrate the existence of mature commercial A-PNT technologies that can deliver positioning and/or timing information independently of GNSS.

To enhance the resilience of PNT technologies and GNSS infrastructures in the European Union (EU), the European Commission has taken various actions. These include adopting the EU Space Programme, publishing the European Radio Navigation Plan, and making new Galileo services accessible to users.

The goal of strengthening the resilience of positioning technologies involves ensuring interoperability among different GNSS and other PNT systems. Several A-PNT candidates can be integrated within GNSS user terminals. However, not all A-PNT technologies were tested in the campaign.

Examples of A-PNT technologies not tested include the use of signals from terrestrial communication systems such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular networks, as well as the enhanced Loran (eLoran) system and Ranging Mode (R-Mode).

In December 2020, the Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space (DEFIS) of the European Commission launched a call for tender to assess the performance of mature A-PNT technologies capable of delivering accurate and robust positioning and/or timing services independently of GNSS. The Joint Research Centre played a key role in this project.

The tender aimed to analyze technologies that could serve as effective backups in the event of GNSS disruption and provide PNT services in environments where GNSS is not efficiently delivered. Four providers demonstrated timing services, while three others exhibited both positioning and timing services.

The tested technologies offered a mix of terrestrial resilient time and frequency distribution, as well as low Earth orbit (LEO) based services. The assessment included the testing of assured position using a network of terrestrial transmitters and LEO.

Overall, the performance assessment campaign conducted by the Joint Research Centre highlights the availability of viable alternatives to GNSS in the commercial market today. These alternative A-PNT platforms have the potential to enhance the robustness and resilience of PNT services.