While dual-frequency GPS receivers have been used in space for more than two decades, the size, power, and cost of this technology is an important driver for future space missions. The growing availability of launch opportunities for very small satellites known as nanosatellites and CubeSats raises the possibility of more affordable access to space measurements if the observation quality is suffcient to support the user’s needs.

This thesis presents the initial development and testing of the Fast, Orbital, TEC, Observables, and Navigation (FOTON) receiver: a small, recon?gurable, dual-frequency, space-based GPS receiver. Originally developed as a science-grade software receiver for monitoring ionospheric scintillation and total electron content (TEC), this receiver was designed to provide high-quality GPS signal observations. The original receiver hardware was miniaturized and the software has been adapted for low earth orbit (LEO) operations. FOTON now ?ts within a 0.5U CubeSat form factor (8.3 x 9.6 x 3.8 cm), weighs 326 g, and consumes 4.5 W of instantaneous power, which can be reduced to <1 W orbit average power with on-off duty cycling. The receiver has been designed with commercial parts to keep manufacturing costs low.

Signi?cant testing of FOTON has been performed with live signals and with signals generated by a Spirent GPS signal simulator. Initial terrestrial tests demonstrate behavioral consistency with the original heritage high-performance receiver. Several LEO simulations are presented, demonstrating FOTON’s single-frequency and dual-frequency-enhanced positioning down to 0.5 m and 1.5 m, respectively, which can be improved using Kalman ?lter based POD. FOTON’s potential for GPS radio occultation observation is also demonstrated. In addition, its acquisition and reacquisition performance is presented; on average, FOTON’s time to ?rst ?x is approximately 45 seconds. Finally, navigation in geostationary orbit (GEO), a challenging application for space-based GPS receivers, is demonstrated. Extensive testing demonstrates that FOTON is a robust, versatile, high-precision dual-frequency space receiver. Its low cost, size, weight, and power requirements are key enablers for future small-satellite missions.

Cite and download the thesis:
Joplin, A.J., "Development and Testing of a Miniaturized, Dual-Frequency, Software-Defined GPS Receiver for Space Applications," Masters Thesis, The University of Texas at Austin, December 2011.