PulsarPlane: Worldwide Air Transport Operations (PulsarPlane)

Themes: Signal processing for communication

We investigate if pulsar navigation for aviation is positive, and analyse the impact on aviation.
Pulsars are fast rotating neutron stars that emit electromagnetic radiation, which is received on earth as a series of very stable fast periodic pulses with periods in between 1.4 milliseconds and 8.5 seconds. These periodic pulses and the known positions (in celestial coordinates) of the neutron stars make them ideal beacons for navigation.

Currently air traffic management and aircraft operations are dependent on the use of ground-based navigation systems. Still, many areas on earth are not equipped with this kind of infrastructure. In oceanic flights and isolated areas, aircraft fly procedural tracks assisted by inertial navigation and/or GPS, as no ground equipment is available to guide them along their tracks. We propose a new navigation system, based on the signals received from pulsars. Pulsar navigation enables a means of navigation without the need for ground-based or space-based equipment. If pulsar navigation is feasible, at least 5 advantages are identified for aviation:

  • Overcome GNSS vulnerabilities
  • Reducing operational cost of air transport
  • Contribute to greener transport by enabling secure formation flying of commercial airplanes in oceanic and remote areas
  • improve flexibility and accessibility of air transport
  • Contribute to a common reference time frame for aviation
Radio pulsar

Project data

Researchers: Richard Heusdens, Nikolay Gaubitch
Starting date: September 2013
Closing date: February 2015
Sponsor: EU FP7 Collaborative Project
Partners: NLR - National Aerospace Laboratory (Netherlands), TU Delft, Aalto University, INESC-ID, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, UT
Contact: Richard Heusdens