Space Data Association Unveils Formal Geolocation Service

Mark Rawlins, SDA chairman

Mark Rawlins, SDA chairman. Photo: Radical Moves PR

[Via Satellite 02-02-2016] The Space Data Association (SDA) is now offering a free geolocalization service for members to help provide a faster way to cut down on satellite interference. The new service formalizes a process that had occurred sporadically in recent years, with operators capable of geolocation periodically aiding those without such capabilities.

Geolocation works by triangulating a source of interference between the affected satellite and another satellite. When a terminal lacks Carrier ID, geolocation is often considered the next best step to identify the source of interference so that necessary steps can be taken. Previously, geolocation was often conducted between members as a favor from one to another. Mark Rawlins, chairman of the SDA, told Via Satellite that standardizing and offering geolocation services will help quicken the pace of finding the origin of interference, and should also provide better data on interference.

“What we are doing is putting it in the context of the SDA and making it official,” he explained. “It always was happening, but this is ‘official with a rubber stamp,’ from senior management of the satellite operators. It’s rendering a service, but to the industry. The people with the geolocalization systems said as part of the SDA they will engage to support as much as they possibly can, anybody else in the SDA who is suffering from a problem they need help in resolving.”

SDA membership is now up to 28 participants. Last year Orbcomm, Turksat, Telenor and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) joined. Rawlins said another member recently signed in Europe, and at least two more future members are in the pipeline. He added that SDA promotion of the sharing information between satellite operators has benefited geolocalization processes and its success, as have the efforts of the Satellite Interference Reduction Group (SIRG), which has collated the satellite industry to address these issues.

“It’s not an environment where, for a competitor suffering from a problem, it is just tough luck. If he is suffering from it today, it’s quite probably that I’ll be suffering from it too, or it will be my problem tomorrow,” said Rawlins.
Through the SDA, a member affected by interference can fill out a form on the organization’s website, which is then distributed to SDA members who have geo-location capabilities. These members then gauge if they have the time and resources to help, and a response is passed back through SDA in a harmonized and agreed upon format, to the member requesting the geolocalization service.

“If you can identify a specific station that’s transmitting something inadvertently—maybe a transportable system that’s switching from satellite to satellite—then you can solve a problem with equipment on the ground that is going to improve the reliability of the services,” said Rawlins.

Rawlins, who in addition to chairing the SDA is also the director of communication system operations at Eutelsat, said that the operator has assisted with geolocalizing interference for other operators. From Eutelsat’s perspective, Rawlins said unintentional interference continues around the world. Intentional interference, such as jamming, stems mainly from the Middle East, he said. Regardless of the type, Rawlins said geolocation can address each form of interference, with the only major caveat being that certain types of very pure carrier can limit the amount of information one can extract.

In addition to formalizing a geolocation service, the SDA is also researching ways to accelerate the process. Rawlins said the organization is working with its chief technology advisor Analytical Graphics (AGI) on automation.

“In the SDA the way we currently handle it is in a manual process, and this is what we are applying in this new service now, but we are also working to automate it, to use the space data center with the information it has on satellite orbits, which is one of the information you need to make geolocalization measurements, plus the configuration of the payload of the satellites,” he said.

The SDA anticipates having a demo version of the automated process ready in about six weeks for evaluation by SDA members. One of the main benefits is that the automated service works Machine-to-Machine (M2M), rather than relying so extensively on specialized personnel that are not available 24/7. Rawlins said the automated geolocation service has the potential to reduce the time necessary from taking days to being quasi-instantaneous.

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