Location system puts satellite jammers on the run

Friday, 23 July, 2004

Deliberate jamming of communications to and from space satellites is being overcome with a system that identifies and locates the source of the jamming in minutes.

The satID system developed by the QinetiQ science and technology company in Britain is claimed to be able to pinpoint the transmitters of the interference to within 10 km.

Its geolocation service using the system is already helping protect broadcasters and other satellite users from loss of service and the US Department of Defense has bought two of the total geolocation systems.

QinetiQ says that film stories depicting villains taking over the airwaves in dramas such as Superman and James Bond are no longer just fiction.

During the last football World Cup, a cult group jammed Chinese TV broadcasts over the Sino satellite.

More recently, Voice Of America broadcasts were blocked from being transmitted to the Middle East.

Now, the British company says it can combat such satellite jamming, explaining:

"By locating the transmitters of the interference, QinetiQ alerts governments, regulators and satellite operators to the source of an attack.

The satID system works by using two intercept stations to track the interfering signal both in the target satellite and an adjacent satellite which will be close enough to receive some of the beam from the offending transmitter.

This knowledge about their velocity and position is used to pinpoint the source of interference. Interference may be accidental, the result of faulty equipment or incorrect operation of ground terminals.

In this case, the ground station causing the problem will be alerted," said a spokesman.

Satellite operators and governments can choose one of three levels of geolocation service from QinetiQ. They can select a whole system, enabling them to pinpoint sources of interference wherever and whenever they like.

They can ask QinetiQ to bring its portable Fly-Away version of satID to their location to interrogate the problem; or QinetiQ can use its own system to provide a geolocation service covering Europe and the Far East.

The company also produces communication systems for satellites and it was one of these that was used in the first exchange of communications between European and US spacecraft.

The equipment was produced for the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter spacecraft but was used to act as a data relay satellite for a US lander craft that was on the surface of Mars.

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