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East Midlands Chamber News

Navigating through solar threats

The University of Nottingham is leading a £700,000 project to change the way sat-nav systems work.

Solar activity can seriously affect the efficiency of global positioning systems and with the sun about to reach a peak in its 11-year cycle there is a serious risk that they could be thrown out of kilter.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are routinely used for high accuracy operations but the signals are vulnerable to ionospheric perturbations – fluctuations in the upper atmosphere - the ionosphere - driven by solar activity.

Funded under the FP7 programme by the European Commission and the European GNSS Agency (GSA), the work will be led by Dr Marcio Aquino, in the University of Nottingham's Faculty of Engineering.

Called Calibra – Countering GNSS high Accuracy applications Limitations due to Ionospheric disturbances in Brazil –the project will endeavour to establish a blueprint for operations requiring accuracy better than 10cm.

Dr Aquino said: “Why Brazil? Brazil sits in one of the most affected regions of the Earth for ionospheric perturbations. Its geographical location across the magnetic equator makes it the perfect test-bed for worst case scenarios. Brazil is also a prominent market for GNNS based high accuracy techniques and this project will help the evolution of this market.”

Civil aviation, offshore drilling and agriculture are among the industries that have come to exploit the pinpoint accuracy provided by GNSS.

Satellite navigation is making a significant impact in support of operations where high positioning accuracy is required, as in precision agriculture, where the meticulous application of pesticides and fertilizers translates into efficiency gain and profit. GNSS is also used for surveying, geodesy, land management and construction, among many other activities.

Dr Aquino said: “Even before the rise of the solar cycle, problems with GNSS carrier waves-based techniques impeded the levels of availability and accuracy expected by industry.

"A risk exists that the impact of high solar activity leads not only to disruption but even to disbelief at the ability of GNSS to support such applications.

"The technical challenges posed by this issue are crucial to the establishment of the new European GNSS Galileo.”

This research is being carried out in collaboration with Septentrio Satellite Navigation, São Paulo State University, ConsultGEL, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia and the University of Nova Gorica.