ESA kicks off two new navigation missions

Today, ESA signed contracts with several European companies for an overall amount of € 233 million to develop Genesis and a LEO-PNT demonstrator, two new missions within the FutureNAV programme that will keep Europe at the forefront of satellite navigation worldwide.

"With Genesis and LEO-PNT we are responding to rapidly growing needs for more resilient and precise navigation and ensuring Europe leads global satellite navigation, the largest downstream space market. I am excited to see our competitive industry bring these two missions to life", says Javier Benedicto, ESA Director of Navigation.

The contract for Genesis amounts to € 76.6 million. A consortium of 14 entities led by OHB Italia S.p.A. (IT) is tasked with developing, manufacturing, qualifying, calibrating, launching and operating the Genesis satellite, including all’its payloads. This mission is supported by Italy, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Hungary and the UK. The Genesis satellite is planned to launch in 2028, followed by years of scientific exploitation.

For LEO-PNT, two parallel contracts of € 78.4 million each have been signed for two end-to-end low Earth orbit positioning, navigation and timing (LEO-PNT) in-orbit demonstrators. The contracts include the design and development of satellites and payloads, ground segment, test user segment and satellite launches, operations, experimentation and demonstration of services with end users.

One of the contracts for LEO-PNT demonstrator is led by GMV Aerospace and Defence S.A.U. (ES), as overall system prime and OHB System AG (DE) as space segment prime and core partner. The other contract is led by Thales Alenia Space France S.A.S (FR) as overall system prime and Thales Alenia Space SPA (IT) as space segment prime. The two consortia involve over 50 entities from 14 countries, including industrial actors with a long heritage in space, together with new actors following novel approaches to space - a combination of space primes, midcaps and SMEs, also engaging representatives from end-user communities.

The first LEO-PNT satellite is planned to launch within 20 months from kick-off and the complete constellation to be in orbit before 2027.

The missions were approved at ESA’s Ministerial council of 2022 as part of FutureNAV programme, in ESA’s Navigation Directorate. FutureNAV enables ESA to respond to trends and needs in the field of positioning, navigation and timing, and allows Europe to stay on the cutting edge of satellite navigation technology.

Genesis, a flying observatory to measure Earth down to the millimetre

Genesis will contribute to a highly improved International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF) of Earth with an accuracy of 1 mm and a long-term stability of 0.1 mm/year, providing a coordinate system for the most rigorous navigation applications on our planet.

The ITRF serves as a reference for all spaceand ground-based observations for navigation and Earth sciences. An updated International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF) will have immediate benefits on satellite-based systems, impacting Galileo-enabled applications in fields like aviation, traffic management, autonomous vehicles, positioning and navigation.

In addition, an enhanced ITRF will benefit countless other fields: meteorology, natural hazard prediction, monitoring climate change effects, land management and surveying, study of gravitational and non-gravitational forces, to name a few.

Genesis’ extreme accuracy will be achieved by co-locating the main geodetic (Earth-measuring) techniques: satellite navigation ranging, very-long-baseline interferometry, satellite laser ranging and possibly DORIS onboard one well-calibrated satellite that acts as a flying observatory, which will allow to determine biases inherent to each technique and correct them for superior precision. The instruments will be synchronized by an ultra-stable oscillator (USO).

LEO-PNT, a resilient navigation system of systems

LEO-PNT (low Earth orbit positioning navigation and timing) is a small constellation of demonstration satellites that will fly close to Earth and test the use of novel signals and frequency bands, unlocking exceptional resilience, accuracy and speed in navigation that will potentially enable a long list of new applications and services.

The constellation will demonstrate the benefits of working in combination with Galileo and other global navigation satellite systems in a multi-layer approach. LEO-PNT will assure signals to improve robustness of existing GNSS in medium Earth orbit such as natural phenomena impairments and interferences, and provide services to places where today’s satnav systems cannot reach deep urban areas and even indoors. This mission will also demonstrate the capability of a LEO navigation constellation to provide a monitoring capability for Galileo and EGNOS signals from space.

Another objective of this mission is to demonstrate the interoperability of PNT with open communication standards, including 5G/6G, opening the door to new applications for Internet-of-Things, emergency services and low latency data for positioning and timing.

The applications that a navigation constellation in low Earth orbit can enable together with existing GNSS range from transportation including automotive, autonomous vehicles, rail and maritime and digital mobility in general, critical infrastructure, mobile devices, asset tracking or indoor.­ications/N­avigation/