JAXA aircraft during a flight test
GNSS Simulation: A User's Guide to the Galaxy
FIGURE 1: Screenshot of RF simulation software showing GPS + GLONASS + Galileo constellations (Click image to enlarge.)
This article concludes our series about the use of simulators and simulation techniques in developing GNSS receivers. Part 3 examines various simulator designs and whether the specifications of any given simulator equpment is suitable for a particular test.
In the first article in this series (Inside GNSS, July/August, 2010) we looked at the range of tasks that require GNSS signal simulation during design, manufacturing, certification, and maintenance of GNSS equipment. The second installment (Inside GNSS, September, 2010) described a range of simulation solutions.
In this final article, we try to find a simulation solution that best suits a particular task.
Live Satellites Versus Simulation
With live satellite testing the user can only to some extent determine the GNSS user equipment’s antenna location and operating environment and has no control over the signal parameters themselves. Therefore, using a live satellite type of testing at R&D, design, certification, and maintenance stages is much less deterministic than use of an RF simulator, and even during manufacturing and QA testing the latter approach has the advantage.
Let’s look, for example, at a few tests that we may wish to do during a receiver design process and see if they can be done using live satellites. We used our software receiver to conduct these tests in combination with a high-end RF simulator for GPS and GLONASS. We also have conducted a number of tests for Galileo, as far as Galileo is supported by the receiver.
Figure 1 (above, right) shows a screen shot of the total satellite constellation that we simulated during the test.
Our tests mirrored a few general tests and may be described as follows:
These types of test are nearly impossible to do with live satellite signals but are rather conventional with simulators, providing that the simulator supports the correspondent functions. Knowing the true model (discussed in Part 2 of this series) and being able to control the signal environment offers many advantages.
The list of possible tests is much longer, and most of them are either impossible or less effective with live satellites.
Record and Playback System: The Recording Function
An RPS should not be confused with a simulator, because it lacks one of the three simulator’s main features — a controlled environment. That is, unless it plays back a simulated signal, a possibility that we will look at later.
In general an RPS provides a convenient means for repeating a test with live satellites. However, all disadvantages related to live satellite tests are inherited in RPS tests. The two main disadvantages are the absence of control over signal parameters and lack of knowledge of the true model. Only the first test among those we have mentioned earlier could be conducted with an RPS.
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How Good Is an RF Signal On a Disk?
Here we have a situation similar to the comparison of analog and digital cameras that we used earlier in discussing simulator types. The digital representation of an RF signal, recorded on storage media can be as good as is required.
We convert analog signals to digital ones because a digital signal is easy to analyze, it is more accessible, and our digital instruments are much more precise than analog tools. For years designers have been using oscilloscopes and spectrum analyzers, which work with digitized signals. In fact, if properly done, this signal conversion imposes no limitations at all.
So, let’s look at how an RF signal is transferred to a digitized IF signal. Firstly, the RF signal is down-converted, an operation that keeps all signal features intact and just moves the signal to a lower frequency.
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RPS: The Play Back Function
When we are testing a receiver with an RPS, we are adding an extra front end — actually two extra front ends, the record and the playback elements — in front of the one under test. In that case, the RPS acts as an extra filter between a satellite signal and the receiver being tested.
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RPS: The Signal Generation
Similar to a simulator, which by definition creates a signal indistinguishable from that transmitted by a live satellite, a DIF signal generator creates a DIF file indistinguishable from that recorded by RPS or RF recorder. The generated DIF signal can be played back in the same way as a satellite signal recorded from live satellites.
With such an approach a user still is not being able to control any parameters in real time in the course of a simulation. By contrast, with a conventional simulator we can adjust power for specific satellites or channels in real-time and watch how our receiver reacts to those changes.
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RPS: Mixing Simulated and Real Signals
Artificially generated noise or signals can be combined with recorded live satellite signal to simulate interference conditions. This approach has advantages in comparison to that where both signals are simulated. However, as we described in the previous section, high values for the quantization parameter of the artificial signals would be required.
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Jamming Environment Simulation
The test was built around a GPS/Galileo RF simulator to research the performance of a multi-antenna, antijamming aviation receiver. The system allows operators to control the simulated distance to a jamming source by adjusting signal power in real time. It also enables control the direction of arrival of a jamming signal by adjusting the phase of each reference clock in the signal generators.
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Simulator Specification Parameters
Some parameters also may be less relevant for an RPS because the features of RPSes that we described earlier may mask most of these parameters. So, in the case of RPSes, we will consider only a small part of these parameters.
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Does Size Really Matter?
Nonetheless, all this equipment is not intended for a consumer market and, unless it is a manufactured in quantities, a small size may signify a compromise of quality. If we look, for example, at computers, desktop solutions still provide better performance specifications than laptops and far better one than handheld computers or smartphones.
What really matters in simulation equipment today is the graphical user interface (GUI). A user-friendly, intuitive GUI is not a luxury any more; it is a requirement. We no longer can say that simulator users must be specialists and able to guide themselves through a complicated set of user actions or expect to struggle along without a user-friendly GUI.
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Conclusion and Guidelines
RPSes and RF recorders give a possibility to record valuable and unique signal data and in that respect represent useful and powerful tools for R&D.
When playing back RF signals from an RPS, make sure that its parameters satisfy your test requirements. Be aware that the RF signal played back from an RPS is changed in respect to the original satellite signal and is, in general, inferior to a signal produced by a simulator. Make sure that the RPS allows you to conduct all required tests, because most of the standard tests cannot be supported by recording and playing back live satellite signals.
For a solution in which a signal for playback is generated in the software, look more carefully at the DIF generator in charge. As with an RF simulator, make sure that all important models and parameters are in place, editable, and configurable.
For many R&D tasks, where the RF part can be bypassed, an RPS with DIF playback may present a very useful simulation solution. In this case, a recorded DIF signal can be streamed to a baseband processor of the receiver under test bypassing two extra RF front ends.
For the complete story, including figures, graphs, and images, please download the PDF of the article, above.
ManufacturersThe tests described in this article used the multi-channel multi-GNSS GSS6700 and GSS7800 simulators, single-channel GSS6300 simulator, and SimGen software suite from Spirent Communications, Paignton, United Kingdom. Real-time software GNSS iPRx receiver, GNSS RF recorder with OCXO, a Replicator RPS, and ReGen GNSS DIF generator from iP-Solutions, Japan. Four N5182A MXG signal generators from Agilent Technologies, Inc., Palo Alto, California, USA, were used in the antijamming tests as well as a pre-production four-antenna digital GPS receiver from Thales Avionics, Valence, France. The integrated INS/GPS unit used in the flight tests was the Micro-GAIA developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tokyo, Japan, tightly coupled with an iPRx receiver from iP-Solutions.
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