The United States Air Force has signed a contract with Australian Locata Corporation, a company that has developed a technology for ground-based precision navigation as a backup to GPS signals.
The scope of the multimillion-dollar contract is to provide LocataNet positioning services, which essentially works as a local positioning signal hotspot, for a 2,500-square-mile area at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. If successful, the concept could be rolled out elsewhere for civil use.
A LocataNet system has been in operation at White Sands since October 2011 and accuracy has been better than seven inches per axis at altitudes between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, according to Christopher Morin, the technical director for 746th Test Squadron (746TS).
The avionics installed in general aviation airplanes are not capable of picking up Locata’s signals at this time because they are in a different frequency band to prevent interference with GPS. However, it may be possible to incorporate Locata receivers into currently installed GA avionics, should it become necessary in the future. Locata’s CEO Nunzio Gambale said that a “GPS-style receiver has to have minor modifications made to the radio portion of the receiver to collect our signals.”
Gambale sees a future where avionics are designed with a chip capable of receiving both GPS and non-GPS precision navigation signals (such as Locata’s signals). Leica’s JPS unit, which is currently used in the mining industry as an alternative to GPS, is capable of receiving GPS and Locata signals. Gambale says this unit is “large and expensive, just like the very early GPS receivers,” but he says its maker is currently working on a credit-card-sized unit and within four years the companies expect to produce a thumbnail-size receiver.