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Small satellites can provide a method for accurate navigation indoors

Published on 8.1.2021
Tampere University
New INCUBATE project researches the application of small satellite technology for precise positioning of indoor spaces and navigation. A new small satellite will also be designed in the project. The project receives funding in the amount of EUR 950,000 from the Building the Future - Taking Action programme of the Centennial Foundation of the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries and Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation. The research project is led by the University of Vaasa and the partners are Tampere University, Aalto University and National Land Survey of Finland.

A sufficiently accurate positioning service that works seamlessly in outdoor and indoor spaces does not currently exist. GPS does not work reliably indoors and between high buildings in cities, not to mention telling the room or floor of the location.

“A solution for precise positioning, navigation and timing can be found by utilising LEO small satellites that orbit the earth at a low altitude. They send a stronger signal to the earth than the traditional positioning satellites and orbit the earth faster than them, even in 40 minutes. If proposals about building an internet based on small satellites are realised, there will be about 50,000 active satellites orbiting the earth in ten years,” says Professor Heidi Kuusniemi, head of Digital Economy research platform at University of Vaasa, who heads the project.

In the new three-year INdoor navigation form CUBesAt Technology i.e. INCUBATE research project, the objective is to study how positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) based on small satellites can be used in indoor spaces. The researchers also study the commercial potential of the solution and revenue possibilities, partly jointly with companies. The technology developed in the project will offer extensive application potential for many industry sectors.

A new small satellite to handle accurate positioning

The aim is to also design a new small satellite FinnPNTSat in the project for positioning. Small satellites will be in a big role in the future, both in science and in commercial use, and small, inexpensive navigation technology may well be the next breakthrough.

The researchers intend to also develop the use of current small satellites for positioning, as well as new payload, i.e. equipment and software carried by the satellite, to improve navigation solutions.

The satellite signal and its reception must be optimised so that a sufficiently high-performing satellite signal can be defined for accurate positioning and navigation.

“This project brings exciting new research opportunities in the field of satellite-based navigation and RF convergence of communication, positioning, and sensing within future wireless systems and it builds upon existing expertise in our TAU team related to indoor localization and LEO satellite-based  signal processing. New collaborative paths will be also opened with University of Vaasa, as well as on-going collaborations with FGI and Aalto will be strengthened,” says Professor Elena-Simona Lohan from Tampere University.

Practical signal processing is made easier, because two of the partners in the project are involved in a project in which a KvarkenSat small satellite is currently being designed for a slightly different purpose. Its launch is planned for 2022.

Multidisciplinary and mutually complementary expertise of University of Vaasa, National Land Survey of Finland, Tampere University and Aalto University helps develop pioneering solutions.

“The entire chain of expertise needed is involved in the project; extensive experience in signal processing, sensor technology, new space economy, i.e. new business opportunities and services, satellite navigation systems, wireless telecommunications, as well as satellite and platform development,” says Heidi Kuusniemi.

The Centennial Foundation of the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries and Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation are funding ambitious research initiatives that look to the future through the Building the Future - Taking Action programme. The focus areas for 2020 are digital technologies and service models that sustainably build the renewal of Finnish industry and society.

Further information
Project director Heidi Kuusniemi, University of Vaasa, tel. +358 29 449 8504, heidi.kuusniemi [at]
Elena-Simona Lohan, Tampere University tel. +358 40 8490669, elena-simona.lohan [at]

Photo: ESA