Image: European Commission – JRC Ipsra Italy Test Site

Blog Editor’s Note: The author is President of the RNT Foundaiton

Europe seeks alternative PNT services, deadline Jan. 13

November 10, 2020  – By 

“In some specific cases, e.g., for critical infrastructures and applications requiring both continuous availability and fail-safe operations, GNSS cannot be the sole means of positioning and timing information.” European Radionavigation Plan, 2018

The European Commission is undertaking a GNSS backup technology demonstration, much like the one completed by the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year. Companies from many countries outside the European Union, including the United States, are eligible to participate. Responses are due by Jan. 13, 2021.

A tender issued on Oct. 26 says that the goal is for the commission to better understand available non-GNSS PNT technologies. Also, they are interested in services that can provide positioning and navigation, and/or time.

Completely Independent from GNSS

Since the intent is to provide a backup for GNSS during an outage, all offered technologies must be completely independent. Specifically, they must have “no common points of failure with GNSS.”

Some industry observers have opined that this eliminates any space-based capabilities from consideration. Coronal mass ejections from the sun have long been considered a threat to satellites. Others have wondered if networked-based solutions could be also excluded because of frequent use of GNSS for synchronization, billing and other applications.

Another requirement is that offered technologies be capable of covering the entire EU territory, including inland waters. While this might seem to rule out fiber-based timing systems, advocates say that is not necessarily the case. They contend a fiber network supporting dispersed transmitters would serve both fixed and mobile applications, and reach users for whom connecting to a fiber node is not feasible.

Other requirements listed in the tender for offered technologies include:

  • Resilience to GNSS jamming, spoofing, and unintentional interference
  • Technical readiness levels of 5 or more for positioning and navigation, 6 or more for timing
  • Able to perform for at least a day during a loss of GNSS
  • Positioning accuracy < 100 m horizontal, or timing accuracy < 1 microsecond relative to UTC
  • If timing is included, it must be traceable to UTC

The Demonstration

A webinar for potential offerors was held on Nov. 4. Although it was not recorded, the slides shown are available at the RNT Foundation website. One update to the slides is a new email replacing the one of the first slide. All inquiries should be sent to the project leader at [email protected].

Up to seven companies, presumably each demonstrating different technologies, will be accepted into the program.

The preferred demonstration site is the European Commission’s Joint Research Center in Ispra, Italy. Recognizing that transporting equipment and traveling to Italy might be a challenge for many companies, the tender states’ commission personnel are willing to travel to other locations to see systems demonstrated.

The JRC Ispra campus covers 170 hectares with 100 buildings and 36 km of roads. It provides state-of-the-art laboratories, smart city infrastructure (grids, homes, mobility), and varied topography with urban, semi-urban, rural and woodland areas. (Image: EC)

The JRC Ispra campus covers 170 hectares with 100 buildings and 36 km of roads. It provides state-of-the-art laboratories, smart city infrastructure (grids, homes, mobility), and varied topography with urban, semi-urban, rural and woodland areas. (Image: EC)

Information on All Technologies Sought

Unlike the European Space Agency’s Navigation Innovation and Support Programme (NAVISP), companies from outside of the EU are invited to respond to the tender and could be selected. This reflects the commission’s desire to include as many technologies and collect as much information as possible.

Limited funding for the demonstration, pandemic travel restrictions, the need for infrastructure to support wide-area signals, and other obstacles may prevent some companies from participating in this effort. The commission’s overall goal, though, is to get information about as many technology options as possible.

So, while not stated in the tender, the commission is eager to hear from technology companies, even if they do not want to be considered as a part of demonstration project. All are invited to contact project leader Ignacio Alcantrailla-Medina. All information is welcome, though most important are a technology’s performance, technical readiness level (TRL), and if it can be deployed in the European Union.

We understand that, as is the case in the United States, solutions delivering timing are of particular interest.

Combining the data from the demonstration project with other information gathered, the commission hopes to be able to identify a way forward with alternative PNT in Europe by the end of 2021.