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GPS plays role in black hole image

Headshot: Tracy Cozzens

Tracy Cozzens

On April 10, the world looked in awe at the first image of a black hole. The image was captured by a world-spanning network of radio telescopes that together, using Orolia atomic-clock technology, create the Event Horizon Telescope.

It zeroed in on the supermassive monster — 6.5 billion times the mass of the sun — in Galaxy M87 to create the image.

As Innovation Editor Richard Langley explains, the technique used to capture the image — very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) — relies on GPS. (VLBI was the topic of Langley’s Ph.D. thesis.)

VLBI links two or more radio telescopes that can be many kilometers apart, or even on different continents. VLBI is used in both geodesy and astronomy. There is also a practical GPS link to the Event Horizon Telescope. From the second of six simultaneously published open-access papers on the result: “All timing is locked to a 10-MHz [hydrogen] maser reference and synchronized with a pulse-per-second (PPS) Global Positioning System (GPS) signal…”

“[T]he long-term drift of the maser [is] compared to GPS, measured by differencing [and plotting] the 1 PPS ticks from the maser and local GPS receiver. The vertical width of the trace is due to variable ionospheric and tropospheric delays of the GPS signal, while the long-term trend represents the frequency error of the maser. The drift measured from this plot, and its effects on the fringe visibility, are removed during VLBI correlation.”

Image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

From the third paper: “In order to reconstruct the brightness distribution of an observed source, VLBI requires cross-correlation between the individual signals recorded independently at each station, brought to a common time reference using local atomic clocks paired with the Global Positioning System (GPS) for coarse synchronization.”

Read more about the image and GPS.

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Quantum magnetometer senses its place

Scientists continue to search for new technologies to serve the PNT mission. One novel way to augment GPS comes from a newly developed technology involving a quantum magnetometer.

Researchers at Lockheed Martin call it Dark Ice; it uses magnetic sensing as an alternative means of determining location without use of satellite signals.

Mike DiMario and his team have developed a prototype magnetometer that uses a synthetic diamond the size of a salt crystal to measure the direction and strength of nearly imperceptible magnetic field anomalies. They overlay that data with maps of Earth’s magnetic field, supplied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, to produce precise location information.

Special quantum-level impurities in the molecular structure of the diamond, where intermittently a carbon atom drops out and its neighbor is a nitrogen atom, enable the detection of magnetic field waves. These nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers are hyper-sensitive magnetic sensors. When illuminated by a laser, the diamond emits more or less light depending on the surrounding magnetic field’s strength.

The Dark Ice quantum magnetometer measures about 31 centimeters in length. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

The Dark Ice quantum magnetometer measures about 31 centimeters in length. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Position + Direction. Dark Ice differs from current magnetic sensors aboard ships and planes in that it can measure both the field strength and the direction the field is pointing. “The real advantage of this quantum-based technology is its ability to produce a true magnetic field vector, while at the same time having a very large dynamic range and bandwidth,” DiMario explained.

Project development “was like peeling an onion: with each new layer removed, the team advanced. We had no idea of the expected outcome, other than what system modeling, the laws of physics and good engineering could predict. There was always something we could not have predicted or even thought of.”

In addition to developing this navigational capability, the team has also demonstrated that Dark Ice can harness Earth’s magnetic field to transmit communications across barriers intended to block all traditional signals, and track moving vehicles in real time.

Unjammable. “This project was designed for times when extenuating circumstances might prohibit your use of traditional GPS signals, and you need something that is unjammable, passive and always available. The Earth’s magnetic field meets this description if we can adequately sense and make use of it,” DiMario said.

He wants to downsize Dark Ice to hockey-puck size for convenient use on multiple platforms. “In real-world conditions, if I can get within 200 meters of GPS accuracy, that would be a huge success,” he claimed. Such precision would serve as a backup or verification to GPS, not a sole-means navigation system.

With its powerful sensing capabilities and small size, Dark Ice could function as the most reliable way to do things like identify hard-to-find watercraft in search-and-rescue missions and fly aboard aircraft in the battlefield. Navigation, search and communications — all in one compact sensor.

Earth’s magnetic fields. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Earth’s magnetic fields. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

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US Navy, Raytheon test precision-guided munitions

Guided projectiles can provide sailors with precision fires

Raytheon Company and the U.S. Navy on May 6 announced the completion of a new round of successful Excalibur N5 munition test firings at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Raytheon’s sea-based Excalibur N5 projectile will more than double the maximum range of conventional 5-inch munitions and provide the same accuracy as the land-based version. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

Raytheon’s sea-based Excalibur N5 projectile will more than double the maximum range of conventional 5-inch munitions and provide the same accuracy as the land-based version. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

The precision-guided projectiles demonstrated various short-, mid- and long-range capabilities.

Besides satellite navigation, Raytheon’s precision weapon systems incorporate laser guidance, high-definition radars, advanced seekers and other technologies.

Designed to be fired from the Navy’s five-inch guns, Excalibur N5 is the sea-based variant of the extended-range, precision munition used by ground forces around the globe. The Excalibur weapon provides accurate, first-round effects at all ranges in all weather conditions.

“Excalibur N5 answers the Navy’s need for a sea-launched, precision-guided projectile,” said Sam Deneke, Raytheon Land Warfare Systems vice president. “N5 doubles the range of the Navy’s big guns and delivers the same accuracy as the land-based version.”

Excalibur is a true precision weapon, impacting at a radial miss distance of less than two meters from the target. Widely used by U.S. and international artillery forces, Excalibur has been fired more than 1,400 times in combat.

The precision-guided projectile was co-developed by Raytheon Company and BAE Systems Bofors.

Besides N5, Raytheon has developed other variants such as the laser-guided Excalibur S, Excalibur HTK and Excalibur Shaped Charged Trajectory.

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Orolia SecureSync to synchronize FAA’s enroute radar systems

Orolia, a provider of resilient positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) solutions, announced that its SecureSync time and synchronization servers have been selected to support enroute radar systems across the U.S.

The selection comes as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) move towards a Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). NextGen is about halfway through a multi-year investment and implementation plan.

The FAA plans to keep rolling out NextGen technologies, procedures and policies through 2025/2030 and beyond.

While NextGen will rely heavily upon GNSS to increase capacity, efficiency, and safety in the National Air Space (NAS), many technologies including legacies such as radar will be integrated into the system for maximum robustness to error and disruption.

The FAA employs a variety of radar types for short-, medium- and long-range air traffic control requirements. These diverse radars require different types of timing signals and outputs to suit their operations.

SecureSync. Orolia’s SecureSync provides the necessary timing outputs and signals to meet these requirements. The time server’s ability to provide resilient, accurate and reliable timestamps for the data that it receives from radars is used to quickly organize the data for the aircraft control user interface.

The only time and synchronization device approved by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) for use in U.S. Government networks, Orolia’s SecureSync provides reliability, security and flexibility to synchronize critical aviation operations. SecureSync combines multi-GPS/GNSS signal synchronization, options for alternative signals and BroadShield GPS anti-jamming/spoofing protection for transportation systems. SecureSync combines Orolia’s precision master clock technology and secure network-centric approach with a compact modular hardware design.

The FAA selected Orolia for the competitive program based on its proven timing and synchronization technology and its ability to offer multiple output options as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products that do not require additional research and development time or investment.

“Consistently accurate timestamps and the synchronization of thousands of real-time flight data points are essential for safe and efficient enroute air traffic operations,” said Jean-Yves Courtois, CEO of Orolia. “Orolia is proud to support the FAA’s radar data and aircraft control user interface requirements to improve air travel services nationwide.”

More About the SecureSync COTS Product. Built-in time and frequency functions are extended with up to 6 input/output modules. Included with the base unit is a 1PPS timing signal aligned to a 10 MHz frequency signal without any 10 MHz phase discontinuity.

A variety of internal oscillators are available, depending on requirements for holdover and phase noise. On-board clocks synchronize to a variety of external references as standard, factory-installed or upgradable options.

Users may add alternate signals of opportunity to GPS or GNSS input references to improve resilience, or use them for indoor applications and choose from a variety of option cards to add to configuration of timing signals, including additional 1PPS, 10 MHz, time code (IRIG, ASCII, HaveQuick), other frequencies (5 MHz, 2.048 MHz, 1.544 MHz), telecom T1/E1 data rates, multi-network NTP and PTP. Modules can be customized for exact requirements.

To support network time synchronization, SecureSync supports the latest features of network time protocol (NTP) and precision time protocol (PTP, IEEE-1588v2). An optional multi-port NTP configuration allows for operation across 4 isolated LAN segments. Up to 6 PTP ports can be added to operate in various PTP deployments.

SecureSync is a security-hardened network appliance designed to meet rigorous network security standards and best practices. It ensures accurate timing through multiple references, tamper-proof management and extensive logging. Robust network protocols are used to allow for easy but secure configuration.

Features can be enabled or disabled based on network policies. Installation is aided by DHCP (IPv4), AUTOCONF (IPv6), and a front-panel keypad and display. The 1 RU chassis supports multi-GNSS (GPS/ Galileo/GLONASS/BeiDou/QZSS) input.

Options include SAASM, supporting L1/ L2, available for authorized users and required for the US DoD, and BroadShield GPS jamming and spoofing detection. The unit is powered by AC on an IEC60320 connector. DC as back-up, or primary, is available.

Featured photo: Orolia

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Cepton unveils long-range lidar scanner for UAVs

Photo: Cepton

Photo: Cepton

Cepton Technologies Inc., a provider of 3D lidar solutions for automotive, industrial, security and mapping applications, has unveiled its newest lidar scanner, the SORA-P60L.

Cepton unveiled the SORA-P60L at AUVSI Xponential 2019.

Part of Cepton’s SORA family of lidar scanners, the new scanner is purpose-built to deliver long-range, high-resolution imaging for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The SORA-P60L offers a 400-Hz frame rate, enabling drones to fly faster while maintaining high point-cloud density. With a 550-gram payload, the SORA-P60L prolongs UAV flight time allowing more ground to be covered in a single trip, the company said.

Cepton’s unique Micro-Motion Technology faces all lasers downward at all times, providing a dense, uniform point cloud that, in combination with the high scan rate, makes it suitable for fixed-wing and fast-moving rotary-wing UAVs.

“Cepton’s SORA-P60L leads the lidar industry with its best-in-class point cloud density that provides superior imaging for UAVs,” said Neil Huntingdon, Cepton’s VP of business development. “With the affordable price point, long-range capabilities and high frame rate of SORA-P60L, UAVs can capture data faster and build more accurate maps. SORA-P60L is our first product from the SORA family that we have unveiled this year. We see a lot of opportunities for this unique sensor in other markets and have a number of products in development that will be revealed later this year.”

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CGI joins with Thales on Galileo security software

Protective "radome" housing for the Galileo ground station on desolate Jan Mayen Island in the Norwegian Arctic. The site is housing a Galileo Sensor Station plus satellite link to pass data back to the Galileo ground system (Photo: ESA/Fermin Alvarez Lopez)

Protective radome housing for the Galileo ground station on desolate Jan Mayen Island in the Norwegian Arctic. The site is housing a Galileo Sensor Station plus satellite link to pass data back to the Galileo ground system. (Photo: ESA/Fermin Alvarez Lopez)

CGI has signed an agreement with Thales Alenia Space France to enhance and maintain security software for the Galileo satellite navigation system.

Valued at approximately 14 million euros, the contract will last until the end of 2020. CGI experts are working on this strategic project from Rotterdam and Toulouse.

CGI will improve the functionality, robustness and reliability of Galileo’s ground infrastructure, as well as enhance and maintain software for its Public Regulated Service Key Management Facility (PKMF).

The Public Regulated Service (PRS) is one of the key features that distinguishes Galileo from other satellite navigation systems. It ensures that only government-authorized entities have access to Galileo’s secure PRS signal that meets strict security standards in areas such as defense, law enforcement and customs.

“We look forward to working with CGI to ensure the highest level of security for Galileo, along with an efficient, high performance infrastructure,” said Guillermo Salgado, Galileo ground mission and EGNOS programs director, Thales Alenia Space France. “CGI’s significant space and security experience, combined with its local presence and global resources, gives us access to the experts we need to launch and operate one of the world’s most advanced satellite navigation systems.”

“CGI has strong legacy in space, and we continue to support space clients across the globe, actively managing their business and national interests while positioning CGI as a trusted space leader,” said Dirk de Groot, who leads CGI’s business unit in the Netherlands.

CGI has more than 40 years of experience in the space domain and delivers complex, mission-critical space software systems across Europe, Asia and North America, supporting programs from satellite navigation, communications and operations, to space-enabled applications.

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New u-blox module aimed at lane accuracy in urban areas

The ZED-F9K module is designed to keep cars in their lanes. (Photo: u-blox)

The ZED-F9K module is designed to keep cars in their lanes. (Photo: u-blox)

The new u‑blox ZED-F9K GNSS and dead-reckoning module is designed to bring continuous lane accurate positioning to challenging urban environments.

The module offers both high-precision multi-band GNSS and inertial sensors. It combines the latest generation of GNSS receiver technology, signal processing algorithms and correction services to deliver down to decimeter-level accuracy within seconds, addressing the evolving needs of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and automated driving markets.

The ZED-F9K builds on the u‑blox F9 technology platform. Compatibility with GNSS correction services further improves positioning accuracy by compensating ionospheric and other errors.

The real-time kinematic (RTK) receiver module receives GNSS signals from all orbiting GNSS constellations. The greater number of visible satellites improves positioning performance in partially obstructed conditions, while increased satellite signals delivers faster convergence times when signals are interrupted.

Inertial sensors integrated into the module constantly monitor changes in the moving vehicle’s trajectory and continue to deliver lane accurate positioning when satellite signals are partially or completely obstructed, as is the case when the vehicle is in parking garages, tunnels, urban canyons or forested areas.

When satellite signals become available again, the module combines inertial sensor data with GNSS signals to deliver fast convergence times and high availability of the decimeter-level solution.

The result of this combination of the latest developments in GNSS technology, correction services and inertial sensing is a tenfold increase in positioning performance over standard precision solutions, according to u-blox.

By robustly providing lane accurate position information, the ZED‑F9K meets the needs of ADAS and autonomous driving applications, as well as head units and advanced navigation systems. The module’s accuracy and low latency also makes it suitable for automotive OEMs and Tier 1 automakers developing V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communication systems. By continuously sharing their location with other traffic participants, V2X systems contribute to increasing overall road safety and reducing traffic congestion.

“We designed the ZED-F9K to be a turnkey high-precision GNSS solution that caters to the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s connected cars,” said Alex Ngi, product manager, product strategy for dead reckoning, u‑blox. “The ZED-F9K is unique in that it integrates a multitude of technologies, from the GNSS receiver to the inertial measurement unit and relevant dead reckoning algorithms into a single device for which we can ensure performance throughout the customer product development cycle.”

Samples will be available upon request by July.

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DroneShield releases body-worn drone detector

RfPatrol. (Photo: DroneShield)

RfPatrol. (Photo: DroneShield)

DroneShield Ltd. has released a body-worn drone detection product, RfPatrol. Weighing under 1 kilogram, the mobile unit is expected to be of significant interest to a range of DroneShield’s customer base globally, across military, law enforcement, security and VIP markets.

DroneShield made the announcement at AUVSI Exponential 2019, being held this week in Chicago.

RfPatrol is a passive (non-emitting) product, which substantially broadens the range of customers to whom the product is lawfully available. It was developed in response to customer interest.

Already, a small quantity of the RfPatrol units has been ordered by a western country’s defense department, for evaluation with a potential larger order in the future.

“We are excited to launch RfPatrol,” said DroneShield CEO Oleg Vornik. “Due to its miniaturized/body-worn nature, substantially larger customer universe due to its non-emitting nature, and a relatively lower price point compared to fixed-site products, we expect it to have substantial appeal. In addition to being able to be used as a stand-alone, it is a perfect companion to our DroneGun product.”

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Harxon GNSS antennas ready for UAVs and UAV base stations

The Harxon team at AUVSI Xponential. (Photo: Harxon)

The Harxon team at AUVSI Xponential. (Photo: Harxon)

Harxon showcased its full range of UAV antennas and technologies for various UAV applications —  especially for UAV base stations — at AUVSI Xponential, which took place April 30-May 2 in Chicago.

Harxon’s newly launched X-Survey antenna offers a 4-in-1 design for multi-constellation GNSS signal reception. It integrates Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4G modules for easy integration into real-time kinematic (RTK) systems.

It also ensures centimeter accuracy for precision positioning of UAVs, and stability of signal transmission, which provides the navigation and communication performance required by UAV base stations.

Additional UAV antenna products and technologies on display at booth #2218 include the HX-CH7011A and HX-CU7001A, new OEM antennas with small size and low weight, but with high gain and a stable phase center. Other available antennas include HX-CH7603A, HX-CH6601A, HX-CH7603A and HX-CSX601A for UAV and surveying applications.

Image: Harxon

Image: Harxon

Skycatch collaboration. Harxon has established strategic relationships with many industrial enterprises, such as Skycatch. Skycatch is an industrial data-collection and analytics company that focuses on indexing and extracting critical information. It provides combination GNSS base station and drone data-processing solutions that deliver high accuracy maps and point clouds in the 30 minutes or less.

Harxon — which specializes in GNSS positioning and navigation — is collaborating with Skycatch to give customers the opportunity to improve their UAV base station mapping solutions, and to maximize UAV operation efficiency and reliability.

High-precision GNSS solutions. The UAV industry, driven by new technologies, is one of the most dynamic growth sectors in the construction industry. The next phase of the drone revolution is flying towards standardization with precision solutions.

Harxon’s high-precision GNSS positioning technologies have been widely used in UAV-related applications, including UAV base stations, UAV power patrols, plant protection and machine control.

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Qulsar software enables timing in GPS-challenged areas

Qulsar announces precision time protocol (PTP) software availability for Qualcomm FSM platform.

Logo: QulsarThe QNgine-S precision time protocol (PTP) software by Qulsar is now available on the Qualcomm FSM9xxx platform, which is used in small-cell designs worldwide.

With QNgine-S, products based on the FSM9xxx platform have access to a precision timing solution that will enable indoor and urban canyon deployments of small cells, where GNSS signals are rather weak.

As operators continue to upgrade and modernize their networks, there is an increasing demand for a packet-based timing solution (such as 1588 PTP) to support LTE-TDD and LTE-A deployments.

The QNgine–S made available by Qulsar to use with the FSM9xxx platform is designed to enable operators to deploy small cells cost effectively and without a hardware upgrade to existing networks (such as on an existing timing unaware network), especially in locations where GNSS signals are unavailable or impeded.

Qulsar’s 1588 PTP slave technology already powers many eNodeBs and mobile backhaul infrastructure.

QNgine-S is a software-only solution that integrates with the baseband software of the FSM9xxx platform to provide an IEEE 1588-2008 PTP solution capable of recovering both time and frequency from a remote PTP grandmaster.

According to Minoo Mehta, Qulsar’s VP of Sales and Strategic Partnerships, “QNgine-S is optimized to operate in networks that haven’t implemented full on path PTP support. Qulsar’s advanced time recovery servo uses adaptive algorithms to allow time recovery to better than the required 1.1 μs for TDD applications, coupled with frequency alignment better than 15 ppb to meet the air interface requirements — a level of performance that typically cannot be achieved with unsophisticated servos and/or open source PTP solutions.”

“QNgine-S provides an increasingly important solution for synchronization of small cells and remote radio heads,” said Puneet Sethi, senior director, product management, Qualcomm Atheros, Inc. “We applaud Qulsar’s approach to delivering precise timing performance to customers using the FSM9xxx platform without new specialized hardware requirements, as this will help accelerate the global adoption of these platforms.”

Qulsar also provides design engineering services to tailor QNgine-S to variant architectures and platforms as needed and offers lab testing services to validate PTP performance.