Viasat’s UK Satellite-Based Augmentation System Takes Flight

Representatives from the organisations involved in the UK sovereign Satellite Based Augmentation System (UK SBAS), next to the test aircraft.
Photo Credit: Viasat Inc

Viasat, Inc. (NASDAQ: VSAT) has demonstrated a UK satellite-based augmentation system (UK SBAS) for the first time, showing how highly accurate GPS data can maximize safety and improve efficiency.

This test flight, conducted from Cranfield Airport utilized the Saab 340B aircraft from the National Flying Laboratory Centre.

The trials demonstrated the leverage of highly accurate GPS data to enhance safety and efficiency across various modes of transportation.

Demonstrating the Power of UK SBAS

The UK SBAS stands out as a game-changer by delivering unparalleled precision in navigation.

Departing from the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) post-Brexit, the UK now strives to establish its own SBAS, specifically tailored to meet the nation’s needs for critical safety in air, land, and sea navigation.


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The National Flying Laboratory Centre’s Saab 340B aircraft. Photo Credits: Viasat Inc.

How UK SBAS Works

Unlike traditional GPS, the UK SBAS amalgamates ground monitoring data with satellite connectivity, ensuring a more dependable navigational experience.

This innovative system boasts the capability to provide positioning accuracy down to a few centimeters, a vast improvement over the standard GPS accuracy of a few meters.

For aviation enthusiasts, this translates into heightened confidence for pilots relying on their onboard instruments, especially in adverse weather conditions where visibility is compromised.

The potential impact on safety is immense, reducing the likelihood of missed landings and enabling aircraft to approach runways more closely.

Onboard display showing the UK Satellite Based Augmentation System in action.

Real-world Impacts on Aviation

Viasat’s research collaboration with a regional flight operator revealed a staggering statistic – close to 40% of weather-related flight cancellations could have been avoided had the UK SBAS been available for their fleet.

Considering the 19 airports that had EGNOS procedures in place before Brexit, the absence of access to such systems at as many as 72 airports across the UK poses a significant challenge.

With the successful aviation trial under its belt, the UK SBAS project aims to extend its reach beyond aviation.

The next phase involves testing the system’s applicability in other transportation sectors, including rail, uncrewed aerial vehicles, and autonomous road vehicles.

Future Prospects

Commending the successful demonstration, Anthony Browne, Technology Minister at the Department for Transport, emphasized the UK’s prowess in the space sector, particularly in position, navigation, and timing capabilities.

The project, funded through the ESA NAVISP program, aligns with the government’s commitment to providing high-accuracy, high-integrity positioning services.

Todd McDonnell, President, International Government, Viasat, expressed enthusiasm about the trial’s focus on delivering trust – trust for pilots, trust for the aviation industry, and trust for future innovations in Britain’s transport system.

Dean Thomas, Position, Navigation, and Timing Lead at the UK Space Agency, highlighted the project’s vital role in showcasing the potential benefits of a UK SBAS and its contribution to space-based PNT solutions.

With backing from the Department for Transport via the ESA NAVISP program, the trial brings together a consortium of leading UK companies.

Contributing endeavours included Goonhilly Earth Station, CGI UK, GMV, Ordnance Survey, Cranfield University, the Cranfield National Flying Laboratory Centre, and Pildo Labs.

Broadcast and Global Collaboration

The UK SBAS generates an overlay test signal to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), complying with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.

This facilitates the evaluation of precise, resilient, and high-integrity navigation for maritime and aviation users in UK waters and airspace.

Collaborating with entities such as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the European Union Space Programme Agency (EUSPA), Viasat’s I-3 F5 satellite broadcasts the signal, showcasing the global collaborative effort.

Future Endeavours and Global Expansion

As the trial progresses, the UK SBAS sets the stage for future advancements in navigation technology.

Todd McDonnell’s optimism about using highly accurate tracking for developing Britain’s transport system aligns with the project’s long-term vision.

SouthPAN in Development

Parallel to the UK satellite-based augmentation system project, Viasat is actively developing a similar system, SouthPAN, to bring resilient positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) to Australia and New Zealand.

The signals for this service will be provided by Viasat’s next-generation I-8 satellites, scheduled for launch in 2027.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
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