A new research study has found that SpaceX’s Starlink satellites can be used for global navigation and positioning in addition to their primary broadband internet function.
Engineering researchers outside SpaceX have found a way to use star link Navigation constellation signals similar to the possibilities it offers global positioning satellites (GPS), which is used in the United States and many other countries. Team members report that the study marks the first time Starlink has been used for navigation by researchers outside of SpaceX.
The researchers triangulated the signals from six Starlink satellites for installation at a location on Earth with an accuracy of less than 27 feet (eight meters), according to the team. mentioned in a press release. It is broadly comparable to the GPS capabilities of a smartphone, which typically locate your position on Earth within 4.9 meters (16 feet), depending on conditions.
“We tapped the signal, then designed complex algorithms to determine our location and showed that it worked with great precision,” study author Zach Casas, director of the Center for Research in Automated Vehicles Using Multimodal Navigation ( CARMEN) at Ohio State University, the statement said.
“Although Starlink was not designed for navigation purposes, we have shown that it is possible to learn certain parts of the system well enough to be used for navigation,” said Casas.
The researchers developed their own navigation system without the help of EspaceX, nor any access to shared data via a broadband connection. Instead, they used signals from multiple satellites and developed an algorithm to determine a location on Earth.
Then they set up an antenna on the UC Irvine campus to try and find its location using Starlink. Their experiment placed the estimated antenna location, using Starlink signals, within 7.7 m (25 feet) of its actual location.
Casas said the algorithm and Starlink working together are relatively accurate compared to previous projects the team has worked on. Other constellations of low-earth orbiting satellites have been identified at locations within 75 feet (23 meters). An independent US Air Force project to locate planes at high altitudes produced an accuracy of 16.5 feet (5 meters).
Casas noted that using this methodology, Starlink’s accuracy will increase as more satellites in the fleet fly into orbit. The team said SpaceX now has around 1,700 operational satellites, but the company hopes to launch them. more than 40,000 in orbit. (Recent launches have been delayed due to a Liquid oxygen deficiency due to the high medical needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The researchers suggested that this method of using the Starlink navigation system could complement traditional GPS navigation, the latter having weaknesses. Because GPS has been around for a generation (over 30 years) and has a known signal, it’s easy to use on smartphones or vehicles, but it’s also more “vulnerable to attack,” the team said.
The Starlink also has an advantage at altitude, orbiting about 750 miles (1,200 km), which is much closer to Earth than GPS orbiting geosynchronously at about 23,500 miles (37,800 km). While GPS has the advantage of being dedicated to a single area on Earth, the downside of its remote location is that the signal is more sensitive to natural or man-made interference.
Starlink satellites are also launched frequently – once every few weeks, typically – from GPS (once every few months or years), allowing Starlink to perform more frequent hardware upgrades.
Coincidentally, SpaceX was launched in recent years Multiple GPS satellites for the US Space Force. Founder Elon Musk has yet to comment on the new study on Twitter in recent days.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us sur Twitter @Spacedotcom And on Facebook.