A study from the Ohio State University and its ‘CARMEN’ project (Center for Automated Vehicles Research with Multi-modal Assured Navigation) has stated that SpaceX’s Starlink broadband-by-satellite system could be used as an alternate supplier of a new global positioning system (GPS).
The CARMEN findings, shared at the Institute of Navigation GNSS annual meeting in St. Louis, may therefore, provide a promising alternative to GPS.
The project’s researchers said they did not need assistance from SpaceX and did not have access to any of the data carried by the Starlink fleet, but did use information related to the satellite’s location and movement through space.
The study revealed that by using Starlink’s signals they could pinpoint accuracy to about 7.7 meters. This, however, is not as good as today’s ‘normal’ GPS accuracy which is about 0.3 to 5 meters. However, as the Starlink constellation grows then accuracy would improve.
“We eavesdropped on the signal, and then we designed sophisticated algorithms to pinpoint our location, and we showed that it works with great accuracy,” said Zak Kassas, director at CARMEN. “And even though Starlink wasn’t designed for navigation purposes, we showed that it was possible to learn parts of the system well enough to use it for navigation.”
There’s another key strategic benefit in the potential use of Starlink. Because they are closer to the ground than traditional GPS satellites, they are less likely to be hacked or subject to interference.
The CARMEN work was funded by the US Office of Naval Research, the US Department of Transportation and the (US) National Science Foundation.