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Boeing Brings Iridium Capability to U.S. GPS System

By | October 4, 2012

      [Satellite TODAY Insider 10-04-12] Satellite manufacturer Boeing is augmenting the GPS satellite network via additional capacity on Iridium’s commercial satellite communications system as part of a Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) research program to keep GPS receivers working amid electronic jamming and interference.

      The NRL awarded a two-year, $40 million sole-source contract to Boeing Oct. 2 to optimize technology that will be used in an operational environment for the Navy’s High Integrity GPS (HIGPS) program. The HIGPS program is part of the Navy’s research budget in demonstrating the capability for Iridium satellites to enhance current GPS navigation and timing capabilities. Boeing said the HIGPS GPS enhancement would capitalize on the Iridium low-Earth orbit constellation of 66 orbiting satellites to improve satellite navigation performance over stand-alone GPS navigation and guidance.
      “The GPS-aiding signals are designed to enable appropriately equipped warfighters to lock on and maintain a GPS signal quickly, even while operating in RF signal-restrictive areas like cities, forests, mountains, and canyons, as well as under enemy jamming attempts or amid battlefield RF noise,” Boeing said in a company statement. “In the program’s first phase, we demonstrated the acquisition of a GPS signal under substantial jamming while moving. As the GPS system provides navigational data in time, location, and velocity, Iridium will provide a powerful signal that rapidly changes ground track to accelerate an initial position fix. The result is an augmentation to GPS that provides HIGPS receivers with improved navigation, high signal integrity, precision accuracy, and more jam-resistant capabilities.”
      Boeing’s work on the HIGPS program dates back to 2008, when the company won a $153.5 million contract under its first phase to investigate enhanced satellite navigation and timing technologies. Boeing finished the work for the first phase in 2011, after its engineers completed an Enhanced Narrowband software modification on Iridium’s satellite computers. The enhancement was designed to enable Iridium spacecraft to broadcast second-generation GPS-aiding signals anywhere in the world.
      “HIGPS also has the potential to provide geographic positioning data to within centimeters – a vast improvement over current stand-alone GPS that provides data within meters,” said Boeing. “[The latest contract] orders Boeing engineers to optimize HIGPS technology developed previously in an operational-like environment in order to make it suitable for a fully operational capability. Boeing engineers will optimize HIGPS user equipment, reference stations, and the NRL HIGPS operations center to create a mission-ready system to support operational test and evaluation.”
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