Xona to test alternative GPS demo satellite with customer

Xona to test alternative GPS demo satellite with customer

TAMPA, Fla. — Startup Xona Space Systems is preparing to demonstrate test satellite services to the first major customer for its planned navigation constellation.

Canadian GPS equipment and solutions provider NovAtel, which on May 31 said it had committed to be an early adopter of Xona’s proposed network of around 300 cubesats, plans to use the in-orbit test bed to configure its technology.

NovAtel is part of publicly traded technology provider Hexagon – which generated around $4.7 billion in net sales in 2021 – and is one of the largest manufacturers of GPS signal receivers.

The company signed a memorandum of understanding to use Xona’s services while helping to develop them.

California-based company Xona built the test satellite, called Huginn, in-house and it was one of dozens of payloads SpaceX launched on a Falcon 9 rideshare mission on May 25.

Huginn is still undergoing health checks that he must complete before starting demonstrations, said Xona CEO and co-founder Brian Manning. SpaceNews June 7. The commissioning phase of a satellite can take several weeks from launch, and this can vary significantly depending on the type of satellite and the complexity of the mission.

Once complete, Manning said Huginn aims to show the performance advantages its planned Pulsar constellation would have over GPS and other global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).

By operating in a much lower orbit, Xona claims its Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services would deliver 10 times the accuracy of standard GNSS.

Pulsar satellites are also designed to operate in inclement weather, which can disrupt ground-based light detection and ranging (LIDAR) solutions for DWPs.

Manning said this means a customer would be able to tell which lane they are driving in, even when the lane lines are not visible, compared to existing GNSS systems which are just accurate enough to show which road they are in. their vehicle.

The startup sees growing demand for its PNT capabilities in the emerging autonomous vehicle industry, which is one of the markets served by Hexagon.

Manning said Xona has other “various commercial customers who are developing equipment compatible” with the Pulsar satellites, which it plans to begin deploying in low Earth orbit by early 2025.

Long tests needed

He said a second prototype satellite that Xona is building in-house, called Muninn, has been awarded a launch contract for deployment in early 2023.

Huginn and Muninn are basically twins, although “Muninn will have some internal upgrades based on what we’ve learned from Huginn,” he said.

“With Muninn, we plan to expand the geographic regions we test in, and also test more advanced user scenarios in the field with multiple satellites in view instead of just one,” Manning said.

Xona has raised approximately $10 million to date and is seeking more funding to support its proposed constellation.

Manning declined to say whether Xona would seek to outsource Pulsar production.

For now, he said the startup is focused on using Huginn and Muninn to ensure its technology can work safely in any environment.

“One of the biggest keys to a successful satellite navigation system is reliability, especially when you’re building a system to support safety-critical applications like autonomous driving,” he said. declared.

“It can be designed in the best possible way, but ultimately it just takes a lot of test cycles to ensure that when we launch the system, we can trust it in applications where a failure could have fatal consequences.”

He said Xona’s ground operations systems, satellite systems and end-user equipment are all “all new designs, so each will also be individually tested.”

Improve security

Xona says its GNSS signals will be encrypted and will also aim to be 100 times more resistant to interference or blockages, whether from tree cover and other obstructions or from intentional jamming.

Manning said Russia’s war in Ukraine has helped underscore the role business enterprises can play in the services governments have traditionally provided.

A part of the most convincing images of war come from satellites operated by private companies.

“Ukraine has really demonstrated the value that commercial space can bring in terms of agility and responsiveness to threats,” he added.

“Arguably GNSS is the one that needs it the most and has the least, and that’s where I think our system can really fill a huge gap in being able to provide that level of service, essentially, not only to governments but also to civilians.”

Xona is not the only company with PNT technology aimed at complementing or replacing existing GNSS solutions.

Satelles, based in Washington, has been providing guaranteed PNT services to back up GNSS since 2016 on Iridium’s satellites in low Earth orbit.

Satelles, Xona and 19 other companies that manufacture hardware or provide services for PNT are part of a group called the Open PNT Industry Alliance, which lobbies accelerate government efforts to back up existing GNSS capabilities for critical infrastructure.

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