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U.S Scientists Test GPS-Free Navigation

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GPS navigation faces particular challenges in polar regions due to disturbances in the ionosphere that disrupt signals and geostationary orbiting satellites. With climate change opening the Arctic waterways, the military has been looking for navigation solutions that do not rely on GPS.

A team of U.S. researchers has developed a proof of concept that uses cosmic-ray muons as an alternative method for sending GPS signals. The subatomic particles can not only pass through the air but also through rock, buildings and underground – areas where GPS communications are now impossible.

The project was selected by the Office of Naval Research Global and the Army Development Command as the winner of the second annual Global-X Challenge, which called for international projects to address capability gaps faced by the military and the private sector at high latitudes.

Like echolocation, the timing difference between ‘pings’ — the signals from a crossing muon in our detectors – can allow the user to measure the distance from one detector to another with multiple detectors allowing location by triangulation. The technique has already been tested in the laboratory before, where the process of converting particles’ crossing times to infer the position of a detector was successfully demonstrated.

– Chris Steer, Lead Scientist

One of the main challenges is developing a large number of tightly specified sensors that can calculate position with minimal uncertainty and integrate them with the muon detectors. Making matters even more challenging is deploying the system in Arctic weather conditions (typically -20 degrees Celsius), in an isolated environment and partially underwater. The cold environment has implications across many aspects of the project from personnel to ensuring the electronics are robust to the cold.

Because the sea is essentially transparent to cosmic-ray muons, the technology may be especially useful in GPS-denied underwater environments for scientific subsea navigation. Similarly, as cosmic ray muons are highly penetrating and able to pass through many tens to hundreds of meters of rock, it is possible to see that this technology also has strong opportunities in tunnels and other underground settings.

The future is so promising for this technology that the possible applications in science, engineering and industry can also be a distracting issue. The next stage after this project would be to understand the positioning needs of end-users, down selecting the best fit with the positioning measurement system and maturing the technology for their needs.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) has begun acquiring new, cutting-edge communication technology to support future battlefield objectives, particularly those that may affect the Indo-Pacific battlespace. Due to future naval warfare that will require increased mobility and active communication to circumvent difficult situations, improving battlefield communication is a major aspect of the Marine Corps’ modernisation efforts to meet this future fight.

The modernisation investments provide Marines capabilities with redundancy and resiliency across the electromagnetic spectrum so Marines can communicate, conduct command and control, increase situational awareness and enable informed decision-making in the battlespace.

To support this goal, the Marine Corps has invested in capabilities that improve communication and increase situational awareness. They ensure that Marines’ communication and navigation systems can continue to operate in a denied, degraded and low-bandwidth electromagnetic environment.

Navigation systems are also important when operating in electromagnetic environments. The Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) is a next-generation, handheld navigation capability that provides positioning, navigation and timing capabilities to warfighters while executing missions. MGUE enables Marines to operate in an increasingly contested electromagnetic environment. MGUE is effectively a GPS modernisation program designed to increase resiliency and PNT capability in the current and future contested environments. It reflects a natural evolution of GPS technologies.


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