Ship navigation and dynamic positioning technologies will be enhanced this decade through satellite investments by the main constellation owners
Advanced capabilities such as tracking and positioning autonomous vessels will be enabled from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) as new satellites with greater functionality are launched.
There will be new satellites for the US Government’s Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s Glonass, European Union’s Galileo, China’s BeiDou and other regional services.
Satellites are mostly in multiple planes in medium Earth (MEO) orbit transmitting positioning, navigation and timing signal in different frequencies. Further investment in new satellites is therefore critical for ship safety as the first generation GNSS comes out of service.
The EU is investing in its Galileo constellation, launching Batch 3 satellites in 2021. This will complete and replenish its nominal Galileo first-generation constellation.
Galileo has also become important for maritime emergency response as it is the first GNSS constellation to contain a search and rescue capability, providing a return link to users in distress.
Galileo is part of the global Meosar constellation for transmitting emergency signals from emergency position indicating radio beacons (epirbs).
The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to develop a second generation of Galileo. Procurement for the system, satellites and ground infrastructure is expected to begin this year and extend into 2021.
The new spacecraft are expected to launch in 2024-25. ESA has approached Airbus, OHB Systems and Thales Alenia Space to manufacture and implement these satellites and expects to confirm contracts in December 2020. The goal is to reach full operational capability for the second generation of Galileo by 2030.
This system will be designed to accommodate new positioning, navigation and timing services, safety-critical and liability-critical transport and emergency warning services. It will have backward compatibility, better accuracy and security with authentication.
The US administration is engaged in an ambitious GPS modernisation programme. It has deployed new satellites (GPS III) since 2018, with the first of these (named Vespucci and Magellan) joining the operational GPS constellation in January and April 2020, respectively. GPS has 24 MEO satellites, plus six spares sailing in six planes.
Russia has introduced its Glonass-K satellites having finished using Glonass-M satellites in 2019. It has 24 K1 and K2 satellites in three planes of MEO, plus two spares
In the longer term, Russia plans to launch six more Glonass satellites in highly elliptical orbits for greater positioning in the Arctic.
China’s BeiDou constellation has gone from strength to strength with 30 satellites, of which 24 are in MEO, three in geostationary orbit and three others in inclined geostationary orbit. Its third-generation satellites reached full deployment in June 2020, significantly contributing to GNSS and regional services.
Other regional services could be bolstered with new satellites. Japan operates four QZSS Michibiki satellites for positioning in the Asia-Oceania region and plans to launch three more satellites by 2023.
India’s government operates the NavIC constellation with seven satellites covering a region extending 1,500 km around the subcontinent. There are plans to increase this to 11 satellites.
The European GNSS Agency published its GNSS User Technology Report on 19 October 2020