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European Commission seeks alternative PNT system

The European Commission has launched a call for tenders for Alternative Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Services. The Commission is assisted by its Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space. The tender was opened on 26th October and a webinar for potential tenderers was hosted on 4th November (the slides shown are available at the RNT Foundation website). Time limit for receipt of tenders is 13th January 2021.

What is this tender about?

The intent of this call for tenders is to analyze the technologies, which could deliver positioning, and/or timing information, independently from GNSS, to be effective backup in the event of GNSS disruption, and if possible to be able to provide PNT in the environments where GNSS cannot be delivered. This undertaking for alternative PNT services is much like the one completed by the US. Department of Transportation earlier this year.

The European Commission will award this contract to minimum seven highest-ranked tenders after applying the formula for final evaluation. Each of the selected tenders will be awarded for a maximum of EUR 70 000. A tenderer may submit more than one tender. Companies from many countries outside the European Union, including the United States, are eligible to participate. This reflects the Commission’s desire to include as many technologies and collect as much information as possible.

Why there’s a need for alternative PNT system?

In its publication, the Commission mentions that GNSS is inherently subject to a number of vulnerabilities (locally and/or globally) especially for the open services and users relying on them. In particular:

  • GNSS signals can be disrupted with limited resources (e.g. by means of intentional or unintentional interferences) since they are received on ground with extremely low power (e.g. compared with other terrestrial services).
  • GNSS services can be spoofed with false information leading to errors in the PNT solution. This is due to the current lack of encryption and authentication of the open signals. These attacks are more demanding in resources to make them effective.
  • GNSS services may suffer from severe degradation of performance and even services outages. They can be mitigated by using multi-constellation GNSS services (Galileo, GPS, GLONASS or BDS).
  • GNSS services, as every space-based services, are also susceptible to space weather events.

Even if substantial actions were performed to improve the reliability of GNSS for each of the above items (e.g. by limiting the occurrence of interference, introducing authentication functionalities for the open service such as in Galileo or improving system performance and operational robustness), the risk of GNSS services disruption will never be removed, even in a multi-constellation environment. In addition, due to the GNSS signals characteristics, PNT services based on GNSS cannot be delivered optimally in the areas of limited (or non-existent) sky visibility, including domains such as Urban canyons, Indoor, Underground, and Underwater.

Economic impact of GNSS vulnerabilities in Europe

PNT services have a major contribution to the global economy. Various studies estimate that its contribution to the European GDP of around 10% and the economic losses are of around EUR 1 billion per day of GNSS unavailability. The US, UK and other nations are investigating and six have plans to deliver “resilient” PNT services or GNSS back-up services in their territories. In addition, PNT services and notably its timing capabilities are exploited by critical infrastructures which are strategic for the functioning of the modern society, such as telecom, energy, finance and transports (road, maritime, aviation). Therefore, due to the major role of GNSS in the economy and society, the disruption or denial of GNSS services constitutes an important risk and the need of alternative PNT capacity, without common modes of failure with GNSS arises.

What are the expectations from alternative PNT service?

The proposed alternative PNT service should complies with the following minimum requirements:

  • The system should be capable of providing either backup positioning and navigation, or timing services or combination of both (that is position, navigation and timing) in the event of a temporary disruption to GNSS. Hence, the alternative PNT service shall be completely independent from and with no common points of failure with GNSS.
  • Capable of expansion to provide the coverage for the EU European territory including in-land waters.
  • Resilient to GNSS failure modes and vulnerabilities (including GNSS frequency jamming and spoofing or unintentional interference).
  • Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) greater than 5 for position/navigation services OR greater than 6 for timing services.
  • Minimum performance of the alternative PNT service for at least 1 day upon GNSS loss:
  1. Positioning Accuracy (Horizontal and/or Vertical 95%) < 100 m OR Timing Accuracy to UTC (3 sigma) < 1 microsec AND
  2. Availability > 99%
  • If the alternative PNT service provides a timing service, traceability to UTC shall be possible.

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