Surrey Blog

The Role of Small Satellites in Modernizing GPS

People all over the world have depended on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) for defense, transportation, and surveying applications since the GPS constellation became fully operational in 1994.
GPS III satellite, courtesy website
Its civil and recreational use has proliferated since 2000 when President Clinton ended Selective Availability, and the service that the GPS satellite constellation provides has for many become part of everyday life.

GPS has faced increasing challenges as well as competition from other Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) systems around the world. In a time when U.S. government departments are operating on tight budgets, but demand for GPS data is increasing, future GPS satellites will need to be able to do more for less. They must also continue to fulfill essential requirements such as improved accuracy, interoperability with other GNSS systems, anti-jamming, and other signal security capabilities.

Progress has been made to modernize the system since Congress authorized these efforts in 2000, and the first GPS III satellites are due to begin service in 2015. This is a long concept-to-launch time (and one that has already been subject to delay), meaning that by the time the new satellites reach orbit, they will already be flying outdated technology. Various studies have also identified areas where delivery of subsets of GPS signal data would benefit the GPS military, civil, and commercial user communities.

In 2005, Surrey launched GIOVE-A, the first satellite in Europe’s Galileo GNSS system, designed and built by Surrey in 29 months for a budget of around $35 million (today) [4]. GIOVE-A far surpassed its design life and secured the Galileo frequency filings, showing that small satellites have their place in space-based navigation systems.

In 2012 the Air Force Research Laboratory selected Surrey to investigate how our small satellite approach could provide increased system capability while reducing the cost of acquisition and management and accelerating the timescales associated with the deployment of GPS satellites and infrastructure. Our experience developing GIOVE-A and building the navigation payloads for the first 22 Fully Operational Capability satellites for the Galileo constellation were important selection criteria for being awarded the study.

 Caption: CAD image of GIOVE-A in orbit [Credit: ESA]

Small satellites are being used for increasing numbers of government, institutional, and commercial programs where high-capability missions must be cost-effective and delivered quickly to orbit. A small satellite’s low mass and volume mean that launch costs are dramatically reduced and more than one can be launched at a time, which is important for constellation applications.

The increasing need to “do more for less” means that we must approach missions differently and drive innovative development. This is exactly where the benefits of cost-effective, rapid-build small satellites can play a part in ensuring the long-term sustainability and competitive advantages of the GPS system.


20 February 20140 Comments1 Comment

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