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QZSS’s Day in the Sun at Munich SatNav Summit

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April 3, 2014

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The Russians may have taken a rain check, but Asian representatives were out in force at this year’s Munich Satellite Navigation Summit, held last week (March 25–27, 2014). The general message from China, Japan, and India was that they are moving forward quickly with their own GNSS systems, while seeking active cooperation, both technical and commercial, with international partners.

At a special session on Japanese GNSS, delegates discussed the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), the country’s regional system now set to deliver operational services in 2018 characterized as “an enabling element in Japan’s space policy.” In addition to its GPS augmentation function, QZSS will also transmit GPS-like and new signals at several frequencies, and send short messages, such as emergency warnings, simultaneously, to everyone within range with a mobile phone.

Eigo Nomura, director of QZSS-related issues at Japan’s Office of National Space Policy, Cabinet Affairs Office, explained how QZSS fits into his country’s wider ambitions in space. Starting in 2008, he said, Japan began including “utilization of space” as a specific theme within its official space policy, along with “science” and “R&D.” Japanese space policy is laid out by government ministers, while JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, undertakes the necessary technical tasks.

Nomura stressed that “utilization” means “peaceful utilization,” and underlying all activities is the key principle of insuring autonomy.

The first QZSS satellite, nicknamed “Michibiki” (“show the way”), was launched on September 11, 2010. Subsequently, Japan’s government decided to accelerate the deployment of the operational QZSS, thus the current date of 2018. The full constellation will ultimately consist of three QZOs (inclined geosynchronous orbits) and one GEO satellite.

Rounding out Japanese space policy, alongside QZSS, Nomura explained, are key space-related infrastructures, including communications satellites, remote sensing systems, and an autonomous launching capability. Main priorities for 2014 include putting space to good use in the interests of national security and the Japanese economy.

“To enhance the utilization of QZSS would be beneficial,” Nomura concluded, “and Japan would actively cooperate with related members on various issues.”

Satoshi Kogure is QZSS Mission Manager at JAXA. He talked about his agency’s role in the QZSS mid-term plan implementation. From 2003–2013, he said, JAXA has played the central role in the development of satellites and the ground control segment, validating and demonstrating technical performance, with application verification being carried out by private companies.

A Full Space Program
Kogure also discussed a number of ongoing GNSS-related R&D initiatives being supported by JAXA, including the MADOCA project (Multi-GNSS Advanced Demonstration Tool for Orbit and Clock Analysis). “In 2018,” Kogure said, “there will be more than 100 GNSS satellites in orbit. We are proposing a multi-GNSS demonstration using all of them.”

For the project to work, he said, his team is calling for increased sharing of resources and observed data by all GNSS operators, under the International Committee on GNSS (ICG) framework.

“We want to want to increase our participation with the EU and the USA in academic research activities, and we are also trying to find ways to invite and encourage industry participation.”

Next up was Takeyasu Sakai from the Navigation Systems Department of Japan’s Electronic Navigation Research Institute (ENRI). ENRI is tasked with developing the QZSS augmentation signal, called L1-SAIF (Submeter-class Augmentation with Integrity Function), within the QZSS program, using the GPS L1 frequency.

Sakai discussed new data showing successful sub-meter accuracy achieved by L1-SAIF using GPS or GLONASS, based on experiments with cars on a freeway.

“L1-SAIF augmentation will improve user position accuracy within one meter nationwide based on wide-area differential GPS technique, and provide users with the integrity information necessary for safety of mobile users,” Sakai said. “L1-SAIF augmentation messages are generated at L1-SAIF Master Station (L1SMS) and broadcast to the users.”

Finally, delivering the European perspective on Japanese GNSS activities was Rainer Horn of SpaceTec Partners. “Japanese ideas drive innovation in Europe and in other Asian countries,” he said.

Horn runs GNSS.Asia, an EU-supported initiative that brings together European and Asian GNSS stakeholders for cooperative ventures.

“There are not many SMEs working in GNSS in Japan,” he said, “so you have to play with large companies and by their rules.”

Japan is export oriented, and that is one of its great strengths, but within the country, says Horn, the consumer market is tech savvy and eager for new technologies, which could mean new opportunities for European companies. He sees possible roles for European partners working with automotive giant Toyota, in the oil-related industries, or with receiver manufacturers.

“So far Japan has been very good at pre-marketing QZSS,” he said, “Future GNSS chips will be GPS/Galileo/BeiDou in one chip, and QZSS is a natural part of this.”

More cooperation is needed, he said, for testing multi-constellation equipment, highlighting one of the key messages of the Munich Summit as a whole: in a multi-constellation future, there is work to do and money to be made for everyone, but we first need to work together to make that future a reality.

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