LEO Satellites the Next Step as China and Russia form Alliance: STL a Prominent Option

Since 2015, Russia and China have formed a bond that has only grown stronger as tensions between these countries and the United States rise.

In July, Russia passed a law entitled “On Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Cooperation in the use of GLONASS and Beidou Global Navigation Satellite Systems for Peaceful Purposes.” Russia and China aim to ensure the compatibility and interoperability of their respective navigation systems, and this has prompted experts to begin searching for reliable backup satellite signals to complement GPS. 

According to Rich Lee of Greenwood Telecommunications Consultants, the alliance between these two nations and the combination of their satellite systems could pose serious problems for the U.S., as it could lead to the replacement of GPS as the leading Global Navigation System. He states, “I believe that, in the intermediate term, these nations will increasingly combine their systems. This will conceivably create a larger, more robust constellation. It could spawn important synergies that benefit both countries without either losing control of their respective national system.”

Experts fear that this “larger, more robust” satellite system could lead to more GPS jamming and disruptions for the shipping industry, which has faced several of these issues in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea in the last two months. In addition, they fear that more frequent disruptions could lead users to switch from U.S. GPS to GLONASS-Beidou. If the two countries declare shared PNT architecture, it too could become the chief source for PNT services, excluding other PNT sources.

With these various threats quickly surfacing, the United States is working to make GPS more resilient and secure.

The Department of Transportation has organized field demonstrations to test backup technologies for GPS. According to Steven Bradbury, General Counsel of the DoT, they are “working closely with DHS and other federal departments and agencies to address policy and technical issues including the security and resilience of GPS receivers.”

The DoT is specifically interested in satellites that provide PNT functions to GPS by extending them to GPS-challenged environments.

China recently launched a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite designed for PNT and broadband communications. Rich Lee believes both Russia and China will turn to LEO—and urges the U.S. to follow suit.

According to recent research, LEO satellites benefit medium earth orbit (MEO) navigation satellites. Lee states that “LEO PNT provides not only stronger, but wider band complementary signals. These features offer increased precision and can incorporate next generation authentication and security features.”

Satelles’ Satellite Time and Location (STL) signals originate from the Iridium constellation of 66 low-earth-orbiting satellites, providing a complementary signal to GPS that is 1,000 times stronger. Our high-powered beams are difficult to jam and our cryptographic security features are difficult to spoof. In addition, STL complements PNT service when GPS signals are unattainable, and it works in GPS-challenged environments.

As China and Russia turn to LEO satellites for stronger signals—and turn to each other for stronger defense—the United States must strengthen its GPS signals. STL stands as a prominent solution. Sources: https://breakingdefense.com/2019/08/dot-fearing-china-russia-threats-tests-gps-back-ups/, https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2019/8/23/viewpoint-russia-china-alliance-on-navigation-satellites-threatens-gps