University of Bath

Using ionospheric science to improve satellite navigation systems and radio communications

Maximising impact from ionospheric research: a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Knowledge Exchange Fellowship.

Picture showing Ionospheric Research
Our ionospheric research will help to improve the reliability and accuracy of radio systems

The ionosphere is the part of the upper atmosphere that is familiar to us as the region where we see the aurora. It is important because it affects radio signals in ways that that can either enhance or degrade our ability to communicate and navigate.

For example, the BBC world service is broadcast using high-frequency (HF) radio signals. It is only possible to receive it in remote places because it is refracted back to the Earth’s surface by the ionosphere. In a way, it is reflected back with the upper atmosphere acting a bit like a mirror.

On the other hand, your sat nav system is affected by the ionosphere in a different way. Sometimes the signals are delayed more than other times and may even be lost completely as they pass through the ionosphere.

Improving reliability and accuracy

We are using research-level information about the ionosphere to improve the performance of radio systems in:

  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS, sat nav)
  • high-frequency communications

As well as improving reliability and accuracy of radio systems, we are impacting policy. We will accurately simulate the ionosphere, including the most extreme space-weather events (like the famous Carrington Event of solar storms in 1859).

We will translate these simulations into a form that can easily be used to design the next-generation of GNSS and HF systems. This will ensure that radio systems are more accurate and reliable, both enhancing the benefit for UK companies and providing resilience for our infrastructure into the future.