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Validation of a new navigation system based on a Galileo signal receiver at ATLAS

As a result of advanced air mobility, several types of aircraft carrying passengers, goods, or parcels will coexist in our cities. Maximum precision is required to locate this high and ever-increasing number of aircraft flying in a limited area and prevent them from getting too close to one another.

The ATLAS test flight centre hosted the flights of two unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to validate a new navigation system based on a Galileo signal receiver that aims to improve the operational safety of drones at low altitude. This high-performance technological solution was developed by the GEODESY (Galileo Enhanced Operation for Drone Systems) project, co-funded by the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) as part of the FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS mechanism. All members of the consortium were present: AERTEC, CATEC, CTTC and Pildo Labs.

This multi-frequency/multi-constellation receiver will enable drones, UAS, and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles to use data from Galileo positioning satellites. This system uses enhanced precision services to provide the centimetre-level accuracy needed for automatic take-off, navigation and landing operations and consequently expands the use of unmanned systems to very low level flight, where operational requirements are more stringent than at higher altitudes. In addition, an anti-jamming authentication system ensures that the navigation data received come from a Galileo satellite and have not been falsified. This verification layer provides a strong level of protection to the Galileo constellation, making it a more robust and secure global navigation satellite system (GNSS).

This navigation solution combines the hardware needed to read signals from Galileo satellites and the software needed to interpret these signals and indicate the exact location of the UAS, thus meeting demanding technical and operational requirements to keep aircraft at a safe distance from one another and reduce the risk of collision.

As Rafael Márquez, AERTEC’s Aerospace Systems Business Development Director, points out, “the advantage of GEODESY is that it has not only allowed us to develop a new navigation solution, but also to validate it at the ATLAS Centre in a real environment of low-altitude flight operations within the specific category”.

The Advanced Centre for Aerospace Technologies, CATEC, was responsible for integrating the GEODESY system into a multirotor platform, enabling aircraft to fly autonomously and only using signals from Galileo. This technological achievement represents an extraordinary breakthrough in UAS autonomy and efficiency.

“What’s more, as we are fully aware of the importance of safety in unmanned aerial operations, we have implemented innovative risk mitigation measures. The geocaging and geofencing functions have been carefully designed to ensure safe and limited operation in specific areas, thus helping to safely integrate UAS into the global airspace. Both functions have been designed for the two aircraft involved the project, the fixed-wing and the multirotor”, says Francisco Javier Garrido, senior avionics system engineer at CATEC.

In parallel, CATEC has led the creation of specialised guides regarding the use of GNSS receivers in SAIL III UAS operations. CATEC has played an active role in standardisation groups such as the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Electronics (EUROCAE) to ensure that technologies meet the highest industry standards. The conclusions of these guides have been used to set standards at the European level, thus driving the safe and efficient evolution of unmanned aerospace technology.

The validation of this navigation system could help mitigate risks in urban drone navigation, in the context of an advanced air mobility industry that is making rapid advances in the technical field but needs this type of projects to validate the operational safety of its technological proposals.