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UK Government to explore new ways of delivering satellite navigation

Satellite image of the UK - Image credit: European Space Agency/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

UK Government to explore new ways of delivering satellite navigation

The UK Government has announced a new satellite navigation programme to explore ways to deliver vital satellite navigation services to the UK.

The Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Programme (SBPP) is aimed at boosting the British space industry and developing the UK’s capabilities in these services.

SBPP follows the work of the UK’s 18-month Global Navigation Satellite System (UK GNSS) programme, which ends on 30 September.

Satellite navigation is critical for the functioning of transport systems, energy networks, mobile communications and national security and defence.

It works by beaming signals from space that devices such as smartphones can use to determine their location and time – otherwise known as position, navigation and timing (PNT).

This supports everyday technology, such as emergency services locating incidents, financial services companies regulating exchanges on the UK stock market or energy networks ensuring households receive power.

Satellite navigation systems are also necessary for future technologies such as driverless cars, smart cities and artificial intelligence.

Currently, the UK is entirely dependent on foreign systems such American GPS or the EU’s Galileo for these critical navigation services. 

The programme will explore the use of different kinds of satellites at various levels of orbit by exploiting technologies offered by companies such as OneWeb, Inmarsat and Airbus.

According to the UK Government, SBPP will enable to the UK to build on its existing space industry to become a global leader in space navigation technologies, as well as developing new opportunities for businesses in the UK and overseas and creating new highly skilled jobs.

UK Government business secretary Alok Sharma said: “Satellites underpin so many of the services that we all use every single day, from precise train timetables on our phones and satnavs in our cars.

“Through our Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Programme, we will draw on the strengths of the UK’s already thriving space industry to understand our requirements for a robust and secure satellite navigation system.

“This includes considering low orbiting satellites that could deliver considerable benefits to people and businesses right across the UK, while potentially reducing our dependency on foreign satellite systems.”

Graham Turnock, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: “Our work to date has developed cutting-edge UK expertise in satellite navigation spacecraft, antenna design and control systems while supporting high-skilled jobs.

“Now is the time to drive this work further to look into wider, more innovative ways of delivering this important national capability to help protect our critical infrastructure and put the UK at the forefront of the development of new space technologies.”

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