GPS Solutions

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 519–529 | Cite as

Precision spacecraft navigation using a low-cost GPS receiver

  • Oliver Montenbruck
  • Paul Swatschina
  • Markus Markgraf
  • Stefano Santandrea
  • Joris Naudet
  • Etienne Tilmans
Original Article


Within the PROBA-2 microsatellite mission, a miniaturized single-frequency GPS receiver based on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology is employed for onboard navigation and timing. A rapid electronic fuse protects against destructive single-event latch-ups (SEL) and enables a quasi-continuous receiver operation despite the inherent sensitivity to space radiation. While limited to single-frequency C/A-code tracking with a narrow-band frontend, the receiver is able to provide precision navigation services through processing of raw GPS measurements on ground as well as a built-in real-time navigation system. In both cases, ionospheric path delays are eliminated through a combination of L1 pseudorange and carrier phase measurements, which also offers a factor-of-two noise reduction relative to code-only processing. By comparison with satellite laser ranging (SLR) measurements, a 0.3-m (3D rms) accuracy is demonstrated for the PROBA-2 reduced dynamic orbit determinations using post-processed GPS orbit and clock products. Furthermore, the experimental onboard navigation system is shown to provide real-time position information with a 3D rms accuracy of about 1 m, which notably outperforms the specification of the Standard Positioning Service (SPS). In view of their lower hardware complexity, mass budget and power requirements as well as the reduced interference susceptibility, legacy C/A-code receivers can thus provide an attractive alternative to dual-frequency receivers even for demanding navigation applications in low Earth orbit.


Orbit determination Real-time navigation Satellite laser ranging Single-frequency GPS GRAPHIC COTS SEL PROBA-2 Phoenix-XNS 



GPS orbit and clock solutions for the PROBA-2 precise orbit determination for the present study have been contributed by the Center for Orbit Determination in Europe (CODE) based on observations of the International GNSS Service (IGS). Offline simulations of the real-time navigation filter have been based on daily broadcast ephemeris parameter compiled by the IGS. Satellite laser ranging of the PROBA-2 spacecraft for validating the precise orbit determination and navigations functions has kindly been provided by the International Laser Ranging Service (ILRS) using its worldwide net of SLR tracking stations. The support of all institutions is highly appreciated and gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oliver Montenbruck
    • 1
  • Paul Swatschina
    • 1
  • Markus Markgraf
    • 1
  • Stefano Santandrea
    • 2
  • Joris Naudet
    • 3
  • Etienne Tilmans
    • 4
  1. 1.German Space Operations CenterDeutsches Zentrum für Luft- und RaumfahrtWeßlingGermany
  2. 2.ESA/ESTECNoordwijkThe Netherlands
  3. 3.QinetiQ SpaceKruibekeBelgium
  4. 4.ESA Redu CenterReduBelgium

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