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Not all scientists are against Starlink: researchers have used it to create an alternative GPS with greater coverage

The Starlink constellation of satellites, which aspires to have up to 42,000 satellites, is a project that is as attractive (for its promises) as it is criticized (by astronomers, but not the entire scientific community sees it with bad eyes. Specifically, a group of scientists of the University of Ohio (USA) assure that with systems like Starlink there may be a very competent alternative GPS.

The idea comes precisely from one of the forts that hope to have these constellations of minisatellites: a brutal coverage. Something that represents one of the few limitations that the GPS system already has to locate (us) when a complicated area is interested in which the signal does not reach.

That mini-satellites not only provide high connection speeds

GPS is a very popular and widely used location system, but it is neither the only one nor is it perfect. In fact, in recent years we have seen several attempts at alternative systems seeking to cover the limitations of GPS, such as location within a building or the alternative that MIT investigated to modulate signals even underwater, designed for oceans.

In this case, they explain in Science, the idea is to find a location system that works in complicated places in terms of the arrival of the signal such as forests, jungles or canyons. Especially thinking of researchers who turn to GPS to locate animals or monitor earthquakes, they point out.

The advantage of satellites such as Starlink’s is that they orbit closer than those responsible for establishing the networks GPS (of the Department of Defense of the United States), Galileo (of the European Union), BeiDou (China) or GLONASS (Russia). When explaining the differences between them we saw that they were not too many and that it was almost a matter more linked to the control of each one, although Galileo promises to be five times more precise than GPS, and the idea of ​​resorting to the constellations of satellites.


Counting on previous experiences with the Orbcom and Iridium Communications satellites, managing to use them for localization, the team led by Zak Kassas (an electrical engineer at the University of Ohio) has used a small receiver for the electromagnetic waves that these satellites send out. They detail that no need to decrypt what is being sent (personal data, web content, etc.), since what is important is to use the signals to determine the distance to these satellites.

Something to keep in mind is the doppler effect that is created by the (relative) movement of the satellite itself, by which the waves are lengthened or compressed. An effect that is often exemplified by that distortion of the sound that we perceive when we hear the siren of an ambulance and we perceive a change as it approaches or moves away.

This effect is what they have used to calculate the location on the earth’s surface, achieving a margin of error of 10 meters, as they assure. It is not an unprecedented precision nor does it improve what was obtained with other systems, but the point is that the coverage is better due to the abundance that the constellations are expected to have.

Hence, these scientists, unlike the astronomers we mentioned at the beginning, do want Starlink (or another company) to plague the skies with its minisatellites, as Kassas expressed. In fact, Starlink is not alone, far from it. We know about the Amazon project, OneWeb and even a European Union project, although it seems that the latter two will somehow converge.

So we will see if finally these constellations present a more useful alternative for those groups that would appreciate a location signal where right now there is none. At the same time, the rest of the systems are also trying to improve themselvesSeeing for example the promise that GPS will be more accurate. Without a doubt, everything looks like we can be well signed, wherever we go.