Research & Innovation Services

Technology transfer in Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)

KTA Proof of Concept Award

Prof Cathryn Mitchell and Dr Julian Rose, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

Play the video How space weather affects GPS

“Transferring cutting edge research into industry really hits home the important role that academia can play in driving forward new technology, working in close collaboration with industrial partners.”
Dr Julian Rose, KTA Fellow, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

“The KTA funding has made available time and resources to explore new avenues of collaboration. The project has deepened our connection with several leading stakeholders in GNSS products and services, moving towards the commercialisation of outputs that are likely to have a global reach in the medium to long term.”
Professor Cathryn Mitchell, Head of the Invert Centre for Imaging Science, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

The challenge

Global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) underpin key technological infrastructure, such as telecommunications networks, mobile phone networks and those required for time-stamped, online banking transactions. All rely upon GNSS for highly accurate timing.  The GNSS, the Global Positioning System (GPS), is employed for satellite navigation (satnav) in many forms of transport – from motor vehicles to airliners and oil tankers – enabling accurate three-dimensional location to within a metre or so. Severe space weather affecting the ionosphere in Earth’s upper atmosphere is a major cause of timing and positioning errors in radio transmissions employed by GNSS.  Delays, errors and dropouts in radio transmissions can produce widespread disruptions, from interrupted power supplies and disrupted banking transactions to greater risks and delays for air and sea transport.

The response

A team in Bath, led by Professor Cathryn Mitchell in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, has been developing a real-time system that warns of the effects from natural solar events and corrects for them.  Real-time information about signal loss and fading from a network of GNSS scintillation receivers between the North and South Poles can measure errors in real-time (within 15 minutes).  This Proof of Concept KTA project provided funding to deepen collaboration with industry partners to push forward the development of Bath’s MIDAS (Multi-Instrument Data Analysis System), and associated instrumentation, towards commercial solutions.

Benefits and outcomes

These are highlighted in three strands emerging from the project:

  • The deepening connection between Bath, National Air Traffic Control, Ordnance Survey (OS) and a world-leading telecommunications company has resulted in the KTA Fellow Dr Julian Rose, along with other members of Mitchell’s team, deploying a scientific receiver compatible with OS systems at a site near Stornoway Airport, Outer Hebrides. This equipment enables the testing of the MIDAS system in a commercial, safety-of-life context, correcting GPS for aircraft landing systems and bringing the commercial licensing of MIDAS software a step closer.
  • Real-time monitoring of space weather is comparatively sparse on the African continent. Industry support from a project collaborator has led to a successful European Space Agency (ESA) bid. This culminated in a workshop in Hermanus, South Africa where scientists from across Africa convened to assess the current state of regional ionospheric, ground-based monitoring. Collaboration between workshop participants will help establish a ground network of scientific receivers to monitor space weather in real time, ultimately supporting safer air travel on the African continent.
  • The British Armed Forces charity, The Baton (www.thebaton.co.uk), uses as its symbol the handle of a military stretcher brought back from Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in 2009. One of the charity’s trustees, in re-enacting Shackleton’s history-making 1916 Antarctic voyage, decided to incorporate GPS-tracking in the baton to track the expedition’s progress and encourage educational and media interest. A KTA project member, Matt Silver, designed and constructed a bespoke solution that was waterproof, corrosion resistant and could operated without external power for several weeks. The Baton charity intends to include such a tracker in every baton taken on their major sponsored expeditions.

Project team

Professor Cathryn Mitchell, KTA Project Leader, Head of the Invert Centre for Imaging Science, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering
Dr Julian Rose, KT Fellow, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering
Matt Silver, KTA Project Student, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

Funded by the University of Bath’s EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account.