Mapping a Way Forward for the Next-Generation of GPS

July 2019
Beneka Bali
Beneka Bali in front of globe backdrop

Over the last 30 years, the world has become reliant on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation and timing. As the system matures, new questions arise. What should the next generation of GPS technologies include? What will make the system more resilient? What changes to GPS are needed to enable our warfighters to remain preeminent on the battlefield?

These are some of the questions MITRE's Beneka Bali asks herself every day.

Bali, a systems engineer at MITRE's Los Angeles office, leads a team dedicated to the research and development of the technologies that will enhance the next generation of GPS.

Developed by the Department of Defense and maintained by the Air Force, GPS relies on a system of 24 or more satellites that orbit the Earth. The satellites—known as the space segment—work in conjunction with a master control station and worldwide collection of monitoring stations and antennas referred to as the control segment. Launched in the 1970s, GPS became available for civilian use in 1985 and fully operational in 1995.

Maintaining the Gold Standard

MITRE has had a key role in developing and implementing space-based position, navigation, and timing (PNT) services since the beginning. GPS is a major source of PNT data.  

"Our country's GPS has been the gold standard for decades," Bali says, "But as more countries develop their own systems, we need to continually advance our capabilities to stay ahead of the curve."

This means developing technological improvements to both the space and control segments, as well as the associated user equipment.

Research Shows Potential for Space Vehicle Autonomy

As an operator of multiple federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), MITRE encourages staff to pursue independent research in technologies that have the potential to help our sponsors achieve their missions. 

Bali proposed an independent research project assessing emerging technologies that show promise to improve small space vehicle autonomy. 

"My research looks at allowing space vehicles to continue operating if there's an interruption in ground-to-space communications," she says. "If a satellite can't communicate with its control system to obtain navigation corrections, what could be the alternative?”

Public Interest Focus a Priority

As is the case with many MITRE employees, working to make the world a safer place was a key draw for Bali. As a veteran who served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and as an airborne paratrooper in combat, she believes that providing our warfighters with the technology they need to be successful is essential.  

Her post-military career started with two years working with a defense contractor on the Chinook helicopter development program. She then joined the United Nations (UN) where she was a project manager on a high-priority initiative constructing police centers in Darfur, Sudan.

While the UN project was rewarding, after two years in Africa she decided to return to the States and look for a position with a company with a public interest mission. After interviewing at MITRE, she knew she'd found it.

"I've had tremendous career opportunities here, plus great mentors. I know that the work I'm doing will help warfighters complete their missions safely and successfully."

She adds, "The work we're doing now will have an impact on all GPS users—military and civilian—for the next 20 to 30 years.

"I'm proud to be part of MITRE's rich GPS history and technical contributions."

—by Kay M. Upham

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