GNSS Science with Commercial Aircraft

GNSS Science with Commercial Aircraft

DESCRIPTION

Usage of commercial aircraft and vessels, as platforms for crowdsourcing science and remote sensing, is under study by organisations like the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) in its Crowdsourced Bathymetry Working Group, or by private companies for imaging and radar applications.
Some advanced passive GNSS-based processing techniques (e.g. exploiting simultaneously direct and reflected signals) applied to commercial aircraft could provide very useful scientific data with higher spatial and temporal resolution than current spaceborne instruments.
Past studies (i.e. PARIS-alpha project) and industrial initiatives ( started in an ESA Business Incubator Centre) have already assessed the feasibility of using planes for remote sensing (Altimetry GNSS-R in PARIS-alpha, GNSS-RO in ARO, imaging and radar in Skyflox). In addition, experimental GNSS-R flight campaigns have been carried out in the past.
Short time and small spatial scale ocean, atmospheric and land processes could be measured with the proposed strategy: ionospheric data, sea levels, wind profiles, soil moisture, vegetation and climate change variables.
Furthermore, these measurements could potentially allow the study of Earth processes in areas (i.e. scatterometry in coastal areas or ionosphere in the ocean) and in a scale not covered by spaceborne payloads, constituting then an excellent complement.
The objectives of the proposed activity are to:

  •  evaluate benefits of the crowdsourcing strategy based on commercial aircraft in terms of coverage, revisiting time and enabled science applications;
  •  determine capabilities of the state of art of passive remote sensing techniques based on GNSS (multi-frequency multi-constellation). If feasible, the scientific opportunities emerging from this proposal are enormous with a higher spatial and temporal resolution than those provided by spaceborne data.

The tasks to be performed will include:

  •  assessing the end-to-end performance of the state of the art of passive remote sensing techniques based on GNSS;
  •  identifying potential scientific fields of application and their requirements;
  •  assessing feasibility and economic viability of the crowdsourcing strategy based on commercial aircraft in terms of coverage and revisiting time and enabled science applications;
  •  evaluating feasibility of embarking GNSS-R instruments in commercial aircraft while fulfilling requirements of the identified scientific applications;
  •  preliminarily designing a prototype GNSS-R instrument;
  •  defining a representative end-to-end demonstration.

The results of the activity will provide:
- confirmation of technical feasibility of embarking GNSS-based remote sensing instruments in commercial aircraft in order to complement Earth Observation satellite services;
- definition of requirements of airborne GNSS-R instruments for the identified scientific applications;
- requirements and accommodation constraints from aircraft manufacturers and carriers;
- identification of a significant use case, preliminary design of the related airborne GNSS-R instruments and definition of a representative end-to-end demonstrator.
Results from other ESA activities related to spaceborne GNSS-R will be duly considered and assessed, as well as from GSA studies (e.g. ‘MISTRALE’ project on airborne sensors for soil moisture measurements).