Geolocation technologies for aerospace

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The purpose of this page is to present:

  • The different technological solutions for aeronautics geolocation in terms of:
    • data transmission
    • installation on board of an aircraft
  • The advantages and disadvantages of each type of solution
  • the magnitudes of the purchase and operating costs (excluding setting costs)

Geolocation principles

  • A mobile device (in our case an aircraft) is equipped with a position receiver (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, ...) in order to get its location in three dimensions
  • And with a transmitting device to send this position to a ground station
  • This ground station sends the location data to a server accessible from the internet network for its use by software solutions including mapping applications to display the position of the aircraft.

GNS position reception

Two networks of global navigation system are operational

  • GPS: Managed by the U.S.
  • GLONASS: Managed by the Space Force of the Russian Federation

GALILEO constellation launched by a European consortium is expected to be available in 2016

Aircraft on board reception is made by an antenna included in a device or external to the equipment and wired to a box housing electronic for decoding and position computation.

The possible combinations are:

  • Certified aircraft equipment, fixed to the inside of the aircraft and connected to an external antenna

It is best to have an external GPS antenna for the aircraft to ensure better reception of satellite signals.

  • Certified external antenna connected to a non-certified equipment installed in the aircraft with a mouting system dedicated for this purpose
  • Bottom reception connected to a tablet or a smartphone wirelessly (Bluetooth, wifi, ...)
  • Autonomous box including antenna

Data transmission methods suitable for aerospace

ACARS Transmission

The communication protocol ACARS. started in the late 70s. It uses several modes of transmission: VHF, HF or Satellite. It is a module called Management Unit (MU) or Communication Management Unit (CMU), which determines the best mode of transmission according to the situation of the aircraft. Other electronic equipment of the aircraft can connect to the MU / CMU to exchange data with the outside of the aircraft. This mode of communication is used to exchange any type of data, not only the position of the aircraft. In addition, it is a bidirectional communication: the aircraft can both transmit and receive data. It is commonly deployed on airliners.

The successors of this technology through the project FANS and the ATN are probably the future of information transmission to and from an aircraft because we can consider exchanged based on the TCP/IP protocol.

ACARS transmission benefits

This mode of transmission adapts the actual transmission mode depending on the available network and increase the chances of having coverage available.

ACARS transmission disadvantages

It requires the implementation of an expensive component, large (expected to be in one or more racks avionics compartment) and heavy (about 5kg).

ACARS cost of transmission

  • Installation: not determined.
  • Transmission: 5 € to 50 € per hour of flight.

ADS-B Transmission

The ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast) is a technology being deployed in Europe. Originally, the ADS was only used in certain airspace or implementing land radars were not possible like North Atlantic oceanic airspaces Gander and Shanwick.

This is a protocol transmission sent by the aircraft radio to indicate its position to air traffic controllers. This is called ADS-B out. From the cockpit point of view, ADS-B is totally transparent to the pilot. It can simply disable through a specific interface but normally the transmission must be permanent.

Subsequently, the ADS-B should be used to a new generation of TCAS for ATSAW (Airborne Traffic Situational Awareness). We then speak of ADS-B in.

EU legislation should make its installation and mandatory use on aircraft of more than 5.7 T for 2015 for new aircraft and for 2017 for from 2017 old aircraft.

Specific activities such as military activities may be excluded from this obligation.

The signal is not encrypted, it may be recovered by any receiving antenna. So you just need an antenna ADS-B network to receive transmissions from the aircraft. This network can be an open third-party network. It is possible to build its own network. A receiving antenna can receive ADS-B aircraft emissions within 200Nm.

ADS-B transmission benefits

The advantage of this solution lies in its obligation if the aircraft must be equipped with a statutorily ADS-B transponder then there is no need to add another device to transmit position.

ADS-B transmission disadvantages

The disadvantages are:

  • If there is no requirement to install ADS-B device, the operator may, for reasons of confidentiality, prohibit its use.
  • There is not, to our knowledge, open official server to retrieve the position of an aircraft. You need either:
    • To build your own antenna array.
    • To use "free" private networks.

ADS-B transmission costs

  • Installation in the aircraft: 0 € when one considers that the installation of an ADS-B transponder responds to a regulatory obligation. Otherwise it takes €3,000 for ADS-B transponder.
  • Transmission: €0.
  • Ground building: €1 per flight hour for the use of a network of receiving ADS-B position.

GSM Transmission

The position can be sent through the GSM network used by mobile phones. The equipment that sends the position must have a modem GPRS including a SIM card. It requires a data plan called "M2M" from a mobile phone company. In general, the equipment can work with GSM network anywhere in the world according to the membership (taking into account whether or not the Roaming). On the other side, data real-time transmission is subject to the existence of GSM coverage in the survey area and the regulations applicable to the use of mobile devices (see GSM transmission disadvantages). In the context of aviation, GSM is an inexpensive solution in the case of transmission of OOOI or if the path transmission is required only after the flight.

GSM transmission benefits

  • The GSM transmission crosses easily the fuselage of an aircraft. This allows to consider installing an aircraft-independent box and therefore does not require certification. It also possible to use only a tablet computer or a smartphone provided with a SIM card.

GSM transmission disadvantages

  • Restricting use of GSM in the air due to local regulations or operator.
  • Loss of transmission:
    • Does not work above 3000ft to 5000ft height in most countries due to the fact that GSM reception antennas are directed towards the ground. Transmission losses are systematic above 5000ft, very common above 3000ft.
    • High cruse speeds can make it difficult to match between a receiving antenna and the transmitter module: the transmitter jumps from one antenna to another without having time to send data.
    • Overflight area may not be equipped with GSM antenna. This is particularly the case in some wooded and unpopulated areas or over the sea. Thus transmission losses frequently exceed 5 minutes on uninhabited areas.

Cost of GSM transmission

  • Installation:
    • Uncertified equipment:
      • Smartphone solution: 0€ if we consider that the smartphone is already purchased
      • Tablet solution: the cost of the tablet (around €1000)
      • Box solution: the proposed OpenFlyers Aerobox is €990. There are boxes with less functionalities than the Aerobox around €100 to €200.
      It is possible to connect an external GPS antenna to some tablets or non-certified equipment. The ideal is that the antenna is outside of the aircraft. In this case, the antenna must be certified and the cost of installation varies between €1,000 and €10,000 depending on the nature of the installation and the box to which it is connected.
    • Material fully certified: €10,000 to €100,000
  • Transmission: €0.1 to €1. The price depends on the desired geographical coverage and the amount of data to be transmitted, i.e. the frequency of sending the position.

Satellite Transmission

Satellite transmissions from aircraft is generally based on the Iridium satellite constellation. Worldwide coverage.

There are 2 types of embedded hardware:

  • The hardware independent of the aircraft: it is self-boxes also receive GPS signals and transmit satellite broadcast. This can also be a tablet connected to a satellite modem.
  • Equipment mounted in the aircraft: the antennas are then located outside the aircraft and there is therefore no problem of reception and transmission of signals except where the helicopter transmission satellite can be problematic.

Satellite transmission benefits

  • Global coverage

Satellite transmission disadvantages

  • Cost

Cost of Satellite transmission

  • Installation:
    • Uncertified equipment:
      • Box solution: about €2,000
      • Tablet solution: the cost of the tablet (approximately €1,000) + cost of the satellite modem (about €300).
    • Certified equipment:
      • Module tracking simply attached to the fuselage of the aircraft: about €1,000
      • It is possible to connect an external GPS antenna to some tablets or non-certified equipment. The ideal is that the antenna is outside of the aircraft. In this case, the antenna must be certified and the installation cost is around €8,000.
      • There are also solutions designed for mounting EFB tablet used as class 2 and for connection to the ARINC bus. We have not studied the cost.
      • Material fully certified: €15,000 to €60,000
  • Transmission: €5 to €50 per hour of flight. The price depends on the refresh rate of the position, the number of hours of flight and also the volume of data in the case where in addition to the position of other data is exchanged. As part of a seasonal activity subscription can be reduced to the only useful months.

OpenFlyers Interfacing

The solution OpenFlyers is capable of interfacing with all of the following existing technologies:

The only prerequisite for this plug is that the the material tracking solution supplier allows access from a third party server. The established companies have implemented open and neutral policy about that.

We offer an own manufactured solution called Aerobox whose price is €990. The advantage is that the Aerobox needs no maintenance intervention: the box is completely independent of the aircraft. The counterpart is that it's necessary to check if the GPS satellite signal is strong enough inside the aircraft for Aerobox. If this is not the case, then there should be connecting an external GPS antenna. In addition, it's necessary to check the legally of GSM transmission of the GPS position in the air.

In 2014, OpenFlyers publishes our app for tablets and smartphones. It will include a geolocation module that can transmit its position in real time or via modem GSM included in the hardware or via a modem Satellite connected to the smartphone or tablet eg wifi.

Finally, we study the possibility of building our own ADS-B monitoring network. If you are interested, contact us.