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A GNSS multipath model for aerial navigation

Suraj Bijjahalli, Subramanian Ramasamy , Roberto Sabatini

School of Engineering, RMIT University ,

PO box 71,Bundoora, Melbourne, Victoria, 3083, Australia


The availability and integrity of navigation systems utilizing Global Navigation Satellite
System (GNSS) signals is adversely affected by signal multipath, a phenomena strongly
dependent on the local environment of the GNSS receiver antenna. This paper presents a ray-
tracing method to model multipath, specifically specular reflections and their impact on the
received signal. The model was applied to study the effect of satellite elevation and azimuth
on signal attenuation in a simulation-based case-study. The case-study demonstrated that the
multipath contribution to signal fading can be isolated to specific satellite azimuth and
elevation zones. The general applicability of the model to any aircraft renders it suitable as a
design tool for developing Aircraft-Based Integrity Augmentation (ABIA) Systems.
Keywords: GNSS signal multipath, GNSS fading pattern modelling, GNSS integrity
augmentation, Aircraft-Based Integrity Augmentation


The safe use of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) as the primary navigation
sensor for aircraft requires the accurate characterization of GNSS errors. Multipath, or signal
reflection prior to arrival at the receiver antenna typically dominates the GNSS error budget,
and is difficult to model owing to its site-specific nature. The research in this paper draws on
prior work in multipath modelling by utilizing ray-tracing approaches. Carrier-phase
measurement errors due to multipath in static scenarios was characterized in [1]. Similar work
on the effect of multipath errors on the Global Positioning System (GPS) code-range
measurements can be found in [2, 3]. The effect of signal reflections from dielectric surfaces
has been analysed by assuming planar wave propagation and specular reflection in [4].The
strength of ray-tracing methods lies in the opportunity to deterministically solve for signal
fading effects due to reflection and diffraction. The approach supports the integration of
antenna polarization and gain patterns, resulting in the potential to model the propagation
channel from end-to-end including the effects of signal interaction with the terrain.

GNSS satellites antennas transmit Right Circular Polarized (RCP) electromagnetic waves on
the L1 (1575.42 MHz) and L2 (1227.6 MHz) frequencies. The C/A pseudorandom code used
for computing the satellite-to-receiver range is modulated onto the L1 carrier by Binary Phase
Shift Key (BPSK) along with navigation data essential for the navigation solution. The
modelling work in this paper is restricted to the C/A-modulated L1 carrier wave in the Global
Positioning System (GPS), but can be generalized to other carrier waves and other GNSS
constellations (GLONASS, Beidou, GALILEO). GPS satellite orbits are at an average altitude
of 20,000 km so as to illuminate the earths surface by transmitting at a beam angle of
approximately 27.Given the distance between the transmitting source (satellite antenna) and
17th Australian Aerospace Congress, 26-28 February 2017, Melbourne

the airborne GNSS receiver antenna, the transmitted wavefronts can be assumed to be planar
at the receiver antenna location. Signal multipath is characterized in terms of four parameters
relative to the direct path or Line Of Sight (LOS) ray: time delay, amplitude, phase, and phase
rate-of-change. These parameters are functions of the satellite-reflector-antenna geometry
configuration at any given epoch and the material properties of the reflector and the
propagation medium (air).By incorporating the receiver antenna gain pattern, antenna
polarization, and the error in pseudorange measurements in the receiver correlators, the
overall positioning error due to multipath can be determined. The following sections will
describe the ray-tracing model used in this research, and its application to a simulation case-

Signal reflection model

Specular reflection of an RCP wave on the interface between two media is illustrated in Fig. 1.

Figure 1 : Ray-tracing model

The time-delay of the reflected signal is determined through a ray tracing method wherein the
satellite-reflector-antenna geometry is analysed to identify the presence of a multipath ray in
addition to a LOS ray using the receiver-image method[3, 5]. The location of the point of
reflection P on the reflector surface is given by [2, 6]:
( iS)
n . Bn . S
n .(RiS)
where S is the location of the satellite, B is a point on the plane of the reflector, n is
the unit vector normal to the reflector plane, and Ri is the image of the receiver about the
reflector surface. Once the point of reflection is determined, the additional path length covered
by the multipath ray relative to the direct ray is:
17th Australian Aerospace Congress, 26-28 February 2017, Melbourne

L=|SP|+|RP|+|SR| (2)
The time-delay in seconds is obtained by dividing the geometric delay L by the speed of
the signal.In analysing the signal strength of a signal reflected from a reflector, it is
convenient to resolve the circularly polarized electric field of the incident wave into linearly
polarized components parallel and perpendicular to the plane of incidence as shown in Fig. 2.

Figure 2: Circular and elliptical polarization

The electric field vector propagating in the z-direction (out of the page) is described by:
E= x^ E x + ^y E y (3)
where E x and Ey are the components of the field vector given by:

E x =E1 e j(t z) (4)

E y =E 2 e j (tz +) (5)

where is the angular frequency of the wave, is the wave number, E1 and E2
are the amplitudes of the components, and is the phase difference between them. When
E1 = E2 , and 90 , the wave is RCP. Fig. 3 also illustrates a Left Elliptically
Polarized (LEP) wave( E1 E 2 , and =+90 ).

The power density of the incident signal propagating in the z-direction is described by the
time-averaged Poynting vector[7]:

2 2
1 E1 + E2 (6)
S i av = ^z
2 Z
where Z is the intrinsic impedance of the propagation medium. On reflection, the amplitudes
of the perpendicular and parallel components are attenuated, and the power density S rav of
the reflected signal is then:
2 2
1 (|| E1 ) +(| | E2 ) (7)
S rav = z^
2 Z
where and are the perpendicular and parallel Fresnel reflection coefficients
respectively. The Fresnel reflection coefficients describe the attenuation of the perpendicular
17th Australian Aerospace Congress, 26-28 February 2017, Melbourne

and parallel components of electromagnetic waves incident on the interface between two
media. The coefficients are dependent on the angle of incidence i and the permittivities
of the reflector and the propagation medium (air) [7]:

cos i
( )
sin2 i
cos i+
( )
sin 2 i


cos i +
( )2
sin 2 i

() 2
cos i +
( )2
sin2 i

The reflection-induced attenuation in the power density relative to the direct ray is then
described by the ratio S rav / Si av . GNSS receiver antennas are RCP so as to completely reject
(ideally) Left Circularly Polarized (LCP) waves. However, as mentioned previously, the signal
is LEP after reflection, leading to a non-zero polarization mismatch factor F for the
multipath ray. Additionally, the multipath ray is further attenuated by a factor G depending
on the directional gain of the antenna. The overall Multipath to Direct Ratio is then
modelled as:
= ( ) Sav
FG (10)

is a ratio between 0 and 1.The polarization mismatch and attenuation due to antenna
gain of the multipath ray is omitted in this paper (F=1; G=1) to focus on the attenuation due to
interaction of the signal with the reflector. Ignoring the C/A modulation, a composite signal
R ( t ) consisting of a single LOS signal and M multipath signals arriving at the receiver
antenna is then modelled as the real part of:
R ( t ) =A 0 exp( j ( t 0 + 0 ) ).[1+ exp ( j( k + k ))] (11)

where A 0 , , 0 and 0 are the amplitude, angular frequency, propagation time,

and phase-offset of the transmitted signal. k and k are the propagation delay and
phase delay of the k th multipath signal relative to the direct signal.

Simulation case-study
The presented model was used to analyse the GNSS channel characteristics of the Aerosonde
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) shown in Fig. 3.

17th Australian Aerospace Congress, 26-28 February 2017, Melbourne


Figure 3: Aerosonde 3D model discretization

Fig. 3 also illustrates the location of the receiver antenna on the wing. The antenna height was
above the wing was assigned a value of 0.05 metres. A preliminary assessment of the effect of
multipath signals due to reflection from the aircraft fuselage and wings on the received signal
strength was performed in this paper. The aircraft 3D model was discretised into a mesh
composed of triangular elements and imported into the MATLAB environment to analyse
the effect of multipath echoes from the aircraft fuselage and wings. The ray-tracing model
employed in this paper has been demonstrated previously in the literature to provide valid
results as long as the reflecting surfaces have dimensions comparable to or larger than the
signal wavelength[2, 3]. The permittivity of the carbon-fibre fuselage and wings (relative to
air) is assigned a value of 3.4 ( =3.4). Subsequently, the reflection coefficients and the
received composite (direct plus multipath) signal was computed as a function of the satellite
elevation angle (as observed in the antenna frame of the aircraft). The normalized signal
strength (relative to the direct path LOS signal) as a function of satellite elevation and azimuth
as observed from the antenna reference frame is shown in Fig. 4. Signal strength values were
mapped for satellite azimuth angles from 0 to 360 in 5 increments, and for satellite
elevation angles above a mask angle of 15.

17th Australian Aerospace Congress, 26-28 February 2017, Melbourne


Figure 4: Normalised signal attenuation

In Fig. 4, the aircraft fuselage is aligned along the 0-180 azimuthal line. The strong specular
reflection phenomena from the wings can be clearly observed in the deep fades close to the
90 and 270 azimuth angles. At these azimuth angles, the maximum attenuation -12 dB
was observed in the 45- 60 satellite elevation angle range suggesting a greater incidence of
multipath signals that destructively interfere with the LOS signal, rendering the signal
tracking loops unable to maintain a lock with the satellite. The overall spatial signal strength
pattern was found to be highly sensitive to the height of the antenna above the wing surface.
The maximum signal strength was surprisingly, obtained at lower satellite elevation angles.
However, diffraction was not modelled in this preliminary work, and it is expected that
diffraction effects would dominate the composite signal at low elevation, resulting in deeper
fades at these angles, and demonstrating a more gradual transition between zones of different
signal-to-noise ratios.


The model presented herein demonstrates flexibility of application to any aircraft and antenna
configuration. The model captured the pattern of the received signal strength as a function of
satellite elevation and azimuth for a given aircraft geometry and antenna configuration. The
multipath contribution to signal fading can be isolated to specific satellite azimuth and
elevation zones. Models of receiver antenna patterns, tracking-loops and navigation
processors can also be incorporated to achieve an end-to-end simulation of multipath effects
on GNSS-based navigation. The primary limitation is the computational expense of the
method. Increasing the number of triangular facets will yield greater accuracy by accounting
for a larger number of possible specular reflections at the expense of greater computational
expense. The lower bound of the mesh size is limited by the requirement of the element
dimensions to be equal to or greater than the signal wavelength. Future research in this
domain will include the effects of diffraction and diffuse scattering, generalization of the
reflection coefficients to include lossy materials and will focus on the development of a
Knowledge-Based Integrity Augmentation Systems using the developed models.


[1] L. Lau and P. Cross, "Development and testing of a new ray-tracing approach to GNSS
carrier-phase multipath modelling," Journal of Geodesy, vol. 81, pp. 713-732, 2007.

17th Australian Aerospace Congress, 26-28 February 2017, Melbourne


[2] S. H. Byun, G. A. Hajj, and L. E. Young, "Development and application of GPS signal
multipath simulator," Radio science, vol. 37, 2002.
[3] J. P. Weiss, Modeling and characterization of multipath in global navigation satellite
system ranging signals: ProQuest, 2007.
[4] R. Ercek, P. De Doncker, and F. Grenez, "NLOS-multipath effects on pseudo-range
estimation in urban canyons for GNSS applications," in Antennas and Propagation, 2006.
EuCAP 2006. First European Conference on, 2006, pp. 1-6.
[5] D. Laurenson, "Indoor radio channel propagation modelling by ray tracing techniques,"
University of Edinburgh, 1994.
[6] R. Sabatini, T. Moore, and C. Hill, "A New Avionics-Based GNSS Integrity Augmentation
System: Part 1Fundamentals," Journal of Navigation, vol. 66, pp. 363-384, 2013.
[7] J. D. Kraus and D. A. Fleisch, Eletromagnetics: With Applications: WCB/McGraw-Hill,

17th Australian Aerospace Congress, 26-28 February 2017, Melbourne