Satellite Navigation Summit highlights GNSS security

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26 March 2012

An array of high-level representatives from the world of GNSS discussed the state of play in global satellite navigation technologies, including America's GPS, the Russian Glonass system, Europe's EGNOS and Galileo, and China's emerging GNSS systems.

The opening plenary in Munich ©Peter GutierrezThis year's Satellite Navigation Summit in Munich drew participants from around the world as the event celebrated its 10th anniversary. Klaus-Dieter Scheurle of Germany's Federal Ministry of Transort noted presence of the USA, Russia, China, Japan, India and many others at an annual gathering that has grown up alongside the European Galileo programme.

Speaking about Galileo, "All of the pieces are in place," said Paul Flament, EGNOS and Galileo Programme Manager at the European Commission. "All of the necessary contracts have been signed and we have begun launching operational satellites." With the first two satellites now in orbit and more set to follow this year, Flament said Galileo services would be ready to start in the 2014-15 timeframe.

The Galileo launch in October 2011 was a history-maker in itself as it involved the first ever blast off of a Soyuz rocket at the European Space Centre in Kourou, French Guyana. Flament said Soyuz launchers will continue to be used to deploy Galileo satellites, while the European Ariane-5 launcher will also be brought in from 2014, with modifications that will allow it to carry four Galileo satellites into orbit at a time.

"One of the key questions to resolve in the run-up to Galileo operations has been that of governance," added Flament. "We have now resolved that question – the European GNSS Agency, the GSA, soon to be located in Prague, will be the Galileo service provider."

Meanwhile, EGNOS, Europe's satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS), is now fully operational and ready for use in aviation, road transport and many other applications. Flament urged developers of new location-based applications to make use of the GSA's free EGNOS Toolkit, now available online to help them more easily integrate EGNOS-ready functionalities.

Security and co-operation

The theme of this year's Satellite Navigation Summit was 'GNSS and Security' and Joel Szabat, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy did not hesitate to weigh in, describing what his country sees as the key security threats to GNSS.

"A technology that was originally developed with location and transportation in mind is now a fundamental tool in areas as diverse and finance and infrastructure management, being used in ways that we were not even aware of just a short while ago."

GNSS threats – 'jamming' and 'spoofing'

The key weakness of the open GPS signal today is its vulnerability to 'jamming'. A jammer is a simple device that sends out a signal at the same frequency as the satellite signal, essentially drowning out any useful information.

A relatively small and inexpensive jammer, now available on the open market, can easily disrupt the GPS signal in a limited area. More powerful jammers could disrupt signals in close proximity of airports, for example. This possibility has led to fears that terrorists could use such devices to disrupt air traffic, with severe safety and economic consequences.

In addition to jamming, a second, more sinister method of GPS disruption exists, called 'spoofing'. Here, a false GPS signal is created that passes as a real GPS signal. The intended target sees what appears to be a genuine signal and is unaware that it is wrong.

"Jamming is a real risk," Szabat said. "In aviation, for example, we are vulnerable at take-off and landing. We need to make sure that we have redundant guidance systems, in case GPS fails. But we can also do better at detecting jammers, at finding out where and who they are."

He also highlighted the threat of 'spoofing', especially with respect to GNSS-based timing signals now widely used to timestamp transactions in the financial sector.

Sergey Saveliev, Deputy Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos reaffirmed his country's commitment to keeping Glonass fully compatible with GPS and Galileo. "Today, your car navigation system is already using both GPS and Glonass signals," he said. "The proof is there, these systems can be fully interoperable, and we will continue to work with our partners to bring our systems even closer together."

While Glonass was initially conceived as a military system, like GPS, Saviliev said it is now clearly a dual-use system and it will continue to deliver a free and unrestricted signal for users everywhere.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are also moving forward rapidly with their own GNSS initiatives, including the BeiDou system, also known as Compass. Zhang Chunling, Project Manager of China's Satellite Navigation Office, underlined the importance of co-operation with international partners, both in terms of system interoperability and in the development of innovative ideas, applications and services.

EGNOS highlights

As Europe’s now fully operational SBAS, EGNOS provides very clear benefits for the aviation sector, especially for business and helicopter operations. In the US, a similar system, WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System), has already been in operation for a number of years.

The FAA's WAAS Program Manager Deborah Lawrence explained, "WAAS is now seen as a critical element for our NextGen programme, providing access to runways where previously no precision approaches were available."

What is NextGen?

'NextGen' is an umbrella term for the ongoing transformation of the US National Airspace System (NAS). At its most basic level, NextGen represents an evolution from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system of air traffic management.

Carlo des Dorides ©Peter GutierrezLawrence said WAAS-based procedures in the US now number more than 3000 and cover nearly 1600 airports. While the EGNOS system is still in its infancy, by comparison, having been made available for aviation only in March 2011, there are already more than 80 landing procedures available, covering over 40 airports in four European countries.

European Commission EGNOS Project Manager Charles Villie said, "The development phase is now behind us. We are fully operational and user confidence is growing."

Galileo and Security

In October 2011, the European Council approved broad rules for access to the Galileo Public Regulated Service (PRS), specifying that each EU member state will make its own decisions about who will be allowed to use the PRS and for what purpose.

Speaking at a special session on 'Galileo and Security', GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides expanded: "The PRS authorities of the Member States will have some flexibility and power to negotiate with their own partners, to decide how the PRS can best serve them. There is a clearly defined responsibility that comes with this level of 'sovereignty', and they will understand this."

What is the PRS?

The Galileo Public Regulated Service or PRS is an encrypted navigation service designed to be more resistant to jamming, involuntary interference and spoofing. It is similar to other Galileo services, but with some important differences:

  • Ensures continuity of service to authorised users when access to other navigation services is denied.
  • In cases of malicious interference, the PRS increases the likelihood of continuous availability of the Signal-in-Space.
  • Provides an authenticated position, velocity and timing service.

Also under discussion was the possibility of allowing non-EU countries to use the PRS. Luc Tytgat, Director of Eurocontrol's the Single Sky Directorate, said the PRS would be a key service for state aircraft, including those from third countries. "We are talking about a single sky, and in aviation we want global solutions. In terms of state aircraft, we have international partners, potential PRS users, who need to be able to extend their missions, to fly into and out of EU airspace."

Edgar Thielmann.of the European Commission Directorate-General for Energy and Transport insisted that while this kind of arrangement is indeed possible under PRS rules, it would have to be negotiated very carefully and at a high level, to maintain the highest security assurances.

Des Dorides reminded Summit participants that Galileo will also offer an encrypted 'Commercial Service', which will have many of the same security features of the PRS but available to a broader user base.

The Summit

This year's Satellite Navigation Summit, which took place over three days at the historic Residenz in Munich, was organised by the Institute of Space Technology and Space Applications (ISTA), Universitaet der Bundeswehr Muenchen. The event is now a major fixture in the GNSS calendar, drawing many high-ranking speakers from industry, science and governments and featuring a major exhibition of the latest industrial and institutional GNSS activities, products and services.

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Updated: Mar 06, 2014