Telespazio UK awarded ESA contract for the development of Navigation Techniques utilising Machine Learning Applied to Signals of Opportunity

08 May 2024

As part of the ESA’s Navigation Innovation and Support Programme (NavISP), Telespazio UK is excited to announce that it has been awarded the contract for the development of Navigation Techniques utilising Machine Learning Applied to Signals of Opportunity (MaLASO).

Telespazio UK, a subsidiary of Telespazio (a 67/33% joint venture between Leonardo and Thales), has been awarded a €450,000 contract by ESA. Telespazio UK is the prime contractor to ESA for the project and will be working with a very strong and expert sub-contractor in Cranfield University.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) have become the primary means of navigation and source of Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) information. Yet, all GNSS are vulnerable to natural interference, deliberate and accidental jamming, and spoofing. Moreover, because of the geometry of GNSS flying in Medium Earth Orbit, as well as the number of satellites in the constellation, there are other challenges. Where users are operating in so-called “urban canyons”, or within dense vegetation, or in deep valleys, they can have a limited view of the satellites and consequently have trouble calculating a position. In these situations, signal reflection and refraction is also a problem, causing receivers to calculate an incorrect position from erroneous measurements. Clearly this is unacceptable when operating a safety-critical service, or when other safety parameters are paramount.

So-called Signals of opportunity (SOOP) can be used to help GNSS in these demanding situations. SOOP refers to the use of signals from radio frequency systems for positioning, even though these signals are not specifically designed for positioning. SOOP can come from various sources, either terrestrial (such as 5G telecom networks, television, and radio broadcasts, or wi-fi) or satellite-based (such as Satellite Communication constellations). SOOP can be tracked to extract data which can be used for PNT. These measurements can then be hybridised with GNSS, which brings many benefits for PNT resilience.

Deriving PNT data from GNSS has traditionally used a mathematical approach to providing solutions. However, these techniques (such as Kalman Filters, or least squares) do make some assumptions about the data being received and therefore are fallible to data which does not meet these assumptions. Machine Learning (ML) techniques could be used instead of these traditional techniques to integrate GNSS and SOOP signals in a way that does not make these assumptions and can therefore provide better position solutions utilising GNSS and SOOP from terrestrial or space-based sources. This shall be the basis of our project, which we are calling Machine Learning Applied to Signals of Opportunity, or MaLASO for short.

MaLASO will study and demonstrate the benefits of using SOOP (both terrestrial and space-based) for navigation, and then demonstrate the benefits of utilising SOOP integrated with GNSS using ML techniques and hardware designed to provide a mass-market solution in a demanding and challenging outdoor environment.

Geoff Busswell, Head of Sales and Marketing at Telespazio UK, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to be part of this important ESA project which will build on the work that has already been done within the Alternative-PNT arena, especially with SOOP concepts. We are pleased to be leading such a strong team and look forward to developing new techniques that will help provide position resiliency, potentially making a difference to our daily lives in the future.”

Jaron Samson, Technical Officer for the NAVISP-EL1-072 activity, said: “ESA is very pleased to award this contract, under its NAVISP programme, to Telespazio UK and its sub-contractors. Telespazio has a great deal of experience working on PNT and the provision of alternative and complementary solutions to GNSS. We look forward to working with Telespazio UK and its sub-contractor on this important project for the resilience of PNT solutions.”

The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency.