Canadian student behind a discovery that could improve GPS precision

Canadian student behind a discovery that could improve GPS precision

Connor Flynn presenting his research at the 2018 American Geophysical Union conference in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dr. Jayachandran)

A research project led by P.T. (Jay) Jayachandran, physics professor at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), and his undergraduate student Connor Flynn, has provided a new perspective on frequent irregularities observed in GPS navigation signals. They proved a hypothesis that had eluded other researchers: the code-based system in place to prevent interference between different satellites could itself be the source of some anomalies detected in the signals.

This discovery, a major breakthrough in the field of physics, could lead to improved precision in the GPS devices that Canadians use every day to get from one place to another. Companies and public sector organizations also stand to benefit: for example, they could optimize certain flight paths or locate people in distress more easily and accurately.

The discovery explained

GPS signals travel long distances and are subject to interference from a wide variety of sources, such as other types of signals, natural geography and atmospheric phenomena. To prevent conflicts with other GPS signals, each satellite-specific signal is assigned a unique code that enables receivers to determine which satellite the signal is coming from.

Like other researchers before them, the UNB team members initially went with the hypothesis that the interference prevention system was functioning more or less as it should. They therefore started by looking for external sources that could explain the interference spikes that Connor Flynn observed when he began his research.

After eliminating various possibilities and conducting several unsuccessful tests, Connor Flynn, Dr. Jayachandran and Dr. Anthony McCaffrey reached the conclusion that these satellite-specific codes could also interfere with one another, and that the interference prevention system was itself the source of the observed irregularities.

Next steps

The team now wishes to conduct more in-depth research on this interference to determine its effect on GPS positioning. Dr. Jayachandran and Connor Flynn, with the help of other colleagues, would also like to develop an algorithm or a method that could mitigate this phenomenon.

This project was made possible through a grant awarded under the Canadian Space Agency's Flights and Fieldwork for the Advancement of Science and Technology funding initiative, which supports teams in their research and contributes to the education of students like Connor Flynn.

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