Galileo: David Morris outlines UK’s role in project

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A team of independent researchers have discovered a way to use the Starlink constellation for navigation and global positioning in addition to their core function of broadband Internet. In a new study, they triangulated the signals from six Starlink satellites to fix upon a location on Earth with less than 27 feet (eight metres) of accuracy. The accuracy of GPS typically pinpoints your spot on Earth to within 16 feet (4.9 metres), depending on the conditions.

Study author Zak Kassas said: “We eavesdropped on the signal, and then we designed sophisticated algorithms to pinpoint our location, and we showed that it works with great accuracy.

“Even though Starlink wasn’t designed for navigation purposes, we showed that it was possible to learn parts of the system well enough to use it for navigation.”

The researchers developed their navigation system with no help from SpaceX, nor any access to data being shared over the broadband connection.

They noted that the accuracy would also increase as more satellites in the fleet fly to orbit.

SpaceX has about 1,700 working satellites today, the team stated, but the company hopes to launch more than 40,000 into orbit.

It could put Mr Musk in direct competition with the EU’s Galileo system – which is set to go live in 2026.

The Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) goes live in 2026, and will feature a Public Regulated Service (PRS) that can be used by government agencies, armed forces and emergency services.

The UK was chucked out of the programme after the EU decided this “crucial feature” would only be accessible for bloc members, despite the UK playing a decisive part in its development.

Brussels is said to be increasingly concerned over losing a space race with Mr Musk.

In December, the European Commission launched an initiative to study the feasibility of a Brussels-backed space-based communications system similar to Starlink.

But this is said to have hit a wall.

Now, the bloc has asked industry players and individuals to weigh in on the merits of backing a non-EU satellite provider.

An impact assessment lists buying a “minority stake in one of the non-EU constellations being built” among the possible options to prevent Europe falling behind Britain, the US, China and Russia in satellite broadband.

The most likely option is now said to be OneWeb – the UK-backed constellation.

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Josef Aschbacher, the head of the European Space Agency, said: The UK has some assets in OneWeb and that is something I would like to make good use of for secure connectivity.

“OneWeb is certainly an important aspect for me in this element where different building blocks will play a role.”

The Government invested £364million ($500million) to acquire the satellite company from bankruptcy, in conjunction with the Indian company Bharti Global.

OneWeb was designed as a broadband constellation first and foremost – it will provide rural 4G, and one day 5G,

But experts say its Generation 2 satellites could one day also match the merit of Galileo and GPS.

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