Blog Editor’s Note: Last week the CEO of the UK Space Agency, Dr Paul Bate, and the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy met with the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee.
We were not sure about some of the statements in the below article, so we found the transcript of what was actually said.
An number of interesting issues were raised in the meeting. And it is clear from the transcript the UK government is pursuing multiple paths to ensure national PNT, including considering using OneWeb.
Of course, the bit about OneWeb got most of the press, even though, in our view, it is the most tenuous of the UK’s ways forward.
The Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng told the committee:
“My view—and I know that people have different views on this—is that positioning, navigation and timing capability, which Galileo is all about, is something that we could do ourselves. Some people said we cannot do this, there is no way that we could deliver PNT outside Galileo. I do not happen to agree. Our strategic stake in OneWeb, which we may talk about, gives us a possibility for future capability in PNT. Given our commitments in space, when people look at our space strategy, we are seen as a credible medium-sized player. That is why I do not think that participation in Galileo was really the be-all and end-all.”
Later he said that any PNT from OneWeb would be part of Phase 2 – i.e. not right away.
Yet, regardless of phase, using OneWeb for PNT would not be easy or inexpensive.
As most of our readers know, there are two main options for getting PNT from LEO constellations of communications satellites, which is what OneWeb is at the moment.
First, infer PNT from OneWeb as it is and will be. OneWeb is already 350 satellites. Academic work has shown inferring PNT from a large comms constellation is entirely possible. There are several challenges to this approach, though.
- Studies show this method will not of the same kind of precision as is available with GPS and Galileo. Getting that kind of precision has been cited by the UK government as one of their goals for space-based PNT.
- Communications satellites rely on GNSS like GPS and Galileo. Therefore, while PNT from a comms constellation would be an augment to GNSS that might add value in some applications, it could not be a substitute. We wonder how many British policy makers and members of the press realize this.
The second method of getting PNT from OneWeb is to modify future OneWeb satellites so they can provide a stand alone PNT capability. Challenges here include the time, effort, and cost to:
- Upgrade what are relatively simple and inexpensive satellites to more complex and much more expensive satellites
- Establish and maintain the ground infrastructure to support a space-based PNT system.
In both cases new user equipment will also need to be developed. That could actually turn out to be a very good thing for UK industry.
Dr. Bate mentioned, as have most PNT experts, that a combination of space, terrestrial broadcast (like the eLoran timing they already have in operation) and fiber are the minimum systems needed for a national resilient and sovereign timing or PNT architecture. Should the UK get a lead on developing and producing integrated receivers that use GPS/Galileo, OneWeb or some other LEO system, eLoran, and fiber, they could be well ahead of others and difficult to overtake.
Kwasi Kwarteng is looking to use the taxpayer’s stake in OneWeb to build a satellite navigation system after Britain was removed from the European Galileo project after Brexit.
The Business Secretary told MPs that the satellite broadband company could be used to provide “position, navigation and timing” (PNT) signals equivalent to Galileo or the US Global Positioning System.