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Resilient PNT is critical, industry experts say

As PNT becomes critical to more economic activities, any disruption in availability, reliability, resilience and integrity would weaken the critical infrastructure that sustains national security, business operations and public safety, according to experts speaking at the Geospatial World Forum.

This growing dependency on PNT services — and the potentially high economic cost of vulnerabilities — underscores how vital GPS and GNSS systems are to the global economy and national security of countries worldwide, the experts said. Resilient PNT systems are necessary to combat GPS/GNSS outages.

Robert Cardillo

Robert Cardillo

Building resilience into these systems will require multiple technologies ranging from network time-transfer services to terrestrial wireless infrastructure and low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites.

The Geospatial World Forum opened in Amsterdam on May 10. The second plenary of the day focused on the value of PNT in the global economy. Geospatial World is a global think tank working towards raising awareness around the use of geospatial data and technologies among governments and policymakers, businesses, and the public at large.

Robert Cardillo, president of The Cardillo Group and former director of the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), headed the panel of experts.

“Our existence on this planet has been shaped by our individual and collective awareness of place and our confidence to be able to move securely and efficiently from one place to another, all within that common framework of position, navigation and timing, or PNT,” he said.

“The smartphone is a wonderful example of how far PNT has been integrated into our lives,” said Trimble founder Charlie Trimble. He laid down three basic phases involved in leading PNT to its place in the world economy.

“The path from the dawn of space age to the smartphone was anything but obvious or straightforward,” Trimble said. “First, Sputnik led to the global navigation systems. Second, the Shuttle disaster led us to the realization that the satellite system was an information utility. And now, the integration of PNT into the mobile and immobile internet is changing our world.”

“Our first contract was with ESA (European Space Agency) to look at the feasibility of using a navigation and timing satellite using small-satellite techniques, which in 1985 was considered a wacky idea,” recounted Martin Sweeting, executive chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. “At ESA, we have embarked on a project called Hydro GNSS, which uses Surrey’s GNSS reflectometry to address several climate related issues, be it water detection or biomass, etc. This doesn’t stop here; we are looking at the lunar economy. PNT has indeed a very bright future, not just on Earth but also looking through this decade into the use of PNT on the lunar surface.”

Rodrigo da Costa, executive director of the European GNSS Agency. (Photo: GSA)

Rodrigo da Costa

“New things are happening, particularly in the area of governmental satellite communications, space situational awareness and others, which are benefitting citizens every day,” said Rodrigo da Costa, executive director, EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA). “Galileo, EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service), Copernicus and GOVSATCOM programs are key areas of EU space activities. All these programs are massive investments and in the end, the result comes from their utilization in the different areas of our economy and daily life.”

“Just in the United States alone, GPS is approaching USD 1 trillion in terms of economic impact and is doubling every 2-3 years. But it is a single point of failure. This highlights the need for resilient PNT,” said Gillian Smith, vice president of marketing, NextNav. “We believe that our needs have evolved beyond technology that was really created in the ’60s. We need increased accuracy and availability in the urban environments in particular.

“I think many of you have experienced it if you’ve tried to use it in any major city,” Smith said. “That blue dot is going to bounce off of buildings and not be very accurate. We need indoor tracking and mapping. We need altitude data so that you know what floor you’re on when you’re thinking about accurate location. We also need to increase resilience and redundancy. That’s going to give us all increased security as well.”

The Value of GPS

GPS jamming and interference is a grave issue that has come under the spotlight particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Geospatial World.

In 2019, a Washington, D.C., think tank documented more than 10,000 cases of GPS interference (jamming and spoofing) in the previous five years from Russia. By 2021, these had become increasingly sophisticated. In a peculiar case, the crew onboard NATO ships in Odessa saw their position being given as Crimea.

In the past six months, even before the war on Ukraine began, there were reports of GPS jamming in and around that region. In March, the EU Aviation Safety Agency had issued warnings of GNSS spoofing and jamming for flights over Europe, in particular around countries neighboring Ukraine and Russia.

Globally, the economic impact of GPS/GNSS disruption is difficult to state. The potential economic consequences of failing to sufficiently protect sources of PNT are enormous, with estimates ranging from millions to billions of dollars depending on the type, length, severity and geographic scope of the disruption.

Furthermore, the impact of a GPS/GNSS outage extends beyond basic economics and could result in risk to life. Emergency services, distress beacons and telecommunications networks all rely on PNT services — any disruption could cause serious consequences.

A 2019 report sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated that the loss of GPS would cost the U.S. economy USD 1 billion a day.

A 2017 study in the United Kingdom estimated a five-day GNSS disruption would lead to an economic impact of GBP 5.2 billion (USD 7.2 billion), with road, maritime and emergency service impacts accounting for 88 percent of the cost.

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