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PNT alternatives advocate for a free-market strategy

Companies that compete in positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) are banding together to speed up attempts to back up the global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). The Open PNT Industry Alliance (OPIA) was founded in December in response to an increased need for alternative capabilities to enhance the robustness of satellite navigation systems, which are becoming increasingly important in modern society.

It comes as the US government ramps up efforts to persuade more businesses, notably those in the telecommunications, utilities, transportation, Defense, as well as other critical infrastructure sectors, to install some sort of GPS-based service protection. In January, the White House released a Space Polve January, marking the first high-level change of US space-centered PNT policy over 16 years.

According to a June 2019 research sponsored by the government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, if broad GPS services got lost due to some bad event, the US economy would lose $1 billion each day. According to the study, the cost would be larger if the interruption occurred during the planting season in April and May, when farmers rely largely on GPS details about their fields.

“The world is immensely reliant and dependent on GPS — much more than it realizes,” cautioned Brian Manning, Chief Executive Officer of Xona Space Systems, a Californian business creating cubesats to enhance location services and an OPIA member.

PNT is used extensively in financial transactions to communicate and cross-check information. Satelles, situated in Reston, Virginia, has been administering and facilitating OPIA since 2016. In addition, Satelles has been offering secured PNT services using Iridium Communications satellites to back up the GNSS since 2016.

Satelles’ Satellite Time and Location (STL) systems have previously been used in commercial applications, such as securing New York Stock Exchange transactions. However, in recent years, many different PNT technologies have arisen as improved GNSS capabilities are considered a crucial enabler for autonomous vehicles, drones, ships, and other developing industries.

The OPIA is advocating for a multi-technology strategy to reinforce GNSS, bolstered by the US government’s PNT space policy order and similar measures worldwide. In addition, the alliance is advocating for government financial frameworks to develop and deploy a “system of systems” strategy for alternative PNT, which would support several solutions to enhance resiliency rather than relying on a single backup.

After gaining two members in May, the lobby group now has 18 members, ranging from manufacturers of PNT hardware to service suppliers looking to strengthen the accuracy, security, and robustness of GNSS.

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