Military GPS replacement technology
June 23, 2014
by Mark Ollig

Global Positioning System (GPS) earth-orbiting satellite technology, for guiding US military payloads, began in the 1970s.

During the 1960s, US Navy ships used related technology for obtaining hourly fixes on their positions.

The technology used for the GPS had its early beginnings during the 1950s.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) began under the Eisenhower administration in 1958, and was instrumental in the creation of a new computing network originally called: ARPAnet.

Today, ARPAnet is known to all of us as the Internet.

In 1972, ARPA was renamed DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

Our good friends at DARPA say they are working every day “creating new technological solutions and transitioning them into practice.”

As the military’s use of GPS technology for navigation and precise guidance of weaponry grew, so did the enemies’ attempts at blocking data being sent from the GPS.

In the last few years, reports of GPS signal jamming using equipment which generates radio frequency waves or signal noise to act as interference have increased.

Signal noise can trick a GPS receiver into believing a GPS satellite is not available.

It is a violation of federal law to operate, market, or sell any type of jamming equipment (including GPS signal jamming).

Situations have been encountered by the US Department of Defense, whereby, GPS data has been intentionally blocked using high-powered signal jammers.

Besides the intentional jamming, there are times when the GPS signal can be lost, such as when a device using GPS is inside a heavily walled area of a building, underwater, or underground.

In 2012, DARPA was working on a more reliable replacement technology to guide the military’s missiles, armaments, smart weapons, drones, and other payload packages without GPS.

DARPA hopes to build a single 3D architecturally-structured computing chip; able to complete all the functions accomplished by today’s earth-orbiting GPS satellites.

The program for replacing dependency on GPS is called Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator, or C-SCAN.

The advanced computing chip, to be used for navigation, will contain atomic and solid-state inertial sensors.

It will become a part of DARPA’s Microtechnology for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Micro-PNT) program.

This program is to design computing sensor technology, allowing devices so equipped to have GPS-like capabilities, and operate where a GPS signal sometimes does not reach.

Because of recent breakthroughs in microfabrication and miniaturization techniques, a single computing chip package can contain the needed sensors, gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers, and atomic clocks, inside one self-contained Micro-PNT sensor.

The physical size of the newly designed Micro-PNT sensor is small.

Its 8-10 cubic millimeter size consists of a dome-shaped “bubble” made from silica, and contains a “rate integrating gyroscope.”

This bubble appears to be nested inside a high-quality, military-grade hardened plastic.

An array of small, combined antennas radiate from the bubble.

I uploaded a futuristic-looking photo of what DARPA thinks a C-SCAN Micro-PNT chip package may end up looking like: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-pnt.

A few weeks ago, Northrup Grumman was awarded the contract from DARPA for developing the miniaturized navigation grade inertial system part of the C-SCAN program.

“This microsystem has the potential to significantly reduce the size, weight, power requirement and cost of precision navigation systems,” said Charles Volk, vice president, Advanced Navigation Systems, at Northrop Grumman.

The microsystem will be using newly developed micro-technology, including self-contained, chip-scale sized, inertial navigation and precision guidance.

The Micro-PNT technology will be advanced enough “for applications such as personnel tracking, handheld navigation, small diameter munitions, and small airborne platforms,” according to Dr. Andrei M. Shkel, DARPA program manager.

Continually knowing where on the planet a device is located, without having to rely on GPS satellites, or maintaining a “line-of-sight” with a communication satellite, is the ultimate goal of this new high-dynamic range, low-power consumption chip.

One of DARPA’s visions, seen during a presentation (approved for public release) by Dr. Shkel, is to have these devices use self-contained, active guidance systems, for defining munitions orientation to their target without GPS reliance, during military missile engagements.

This is not a small technological task, to say the least.

Another description from Dr. Shkel’s presentation says the Micro-PNT uses “inertia of elastic waves, self-calibration/cross-calibration algorithms, and 3D fabrication.”

The price per Micro-PNT chip package may range from approximately $50,000 to $100,000.

Over the years, we have come to see new technology used in the military, eventually being introduced into civilian life; such as in 2000, when the public was allowed to begin using GPS technology.

Someday, instead of using a GPS, we may be navigating using a Micro-PNT sensor, built directly into our smartphones and other devices.

Roger L. Easton, who is given credit for designing and inventing GPS satellite technology, passed away May 8 of this year.

The official US Global Positioning System government website is: http://www.gps.gov.

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