Quantum physicists designing rival to Sat Nav that can’t be ‘jammed by Russia’

ITV News Health and Science Correspondent Martin Strew reports on the new system that might be necessary in a more complicated world

Much like the maps on your phone or the Sat Nav in your car, planes rely on GPS to navigate.

The satellite system uses radio waves to work out where you are and where you’re headed.

Since the start of the Ukraine war, there has been an increase in interference of GPS signals.

Leaders of Baltic countries blame Russia who they say are broadcasting powerful radio waves from the ground to jam and scam the system.

Finnair even had to stop flying to one Estonian Airport.

In March a plane carrying the Defence Secretary Grant Shapps was affected. Credit: PA

To combat interference, scientists in the UK are working to develop a navigation system that doesn’t rely on satellites. Instead, it uses quantum technology inside the plane.

The idea is to make "dead reckoning" navigation super accurate.

“We start from a known position and we measure our rotation over time and we know where we are,” quantum physicist Keshav Thirumalai told me.

“The problem with this is with current technology over hours or days uncertainty grows and grows until it’s no longer useful. What we hope is with quantum technology the quantum states we’re manipulating and creating will allow us to navigate long term free from reliance on satellite navigation like GPS,” he added.

To do that, a laser is used to super cool the element rubidium to just a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.

Clouds of atoms are then manipulated to interfere with each other - that creates a pattern that varies if they’re moved or rotated.

By monitoring changes to the pattern, you can calculate the direction and speed you’re travelling.

At the moment physicists are testing the concept and kit, but haven’t yet designed a fully functional navigational tool.

That may be years off and sound like science fiction but then so did GPS when it was first devised by the US military in the early seventies.

Credit: ITV News

The world first test flight was flown from MoD Boscombe Down.

Physicists from Infleqtion, a quantum technology firm, worked alongside aerospace companies QinetiQ and BAE Systems.

The project has received £8 million of government funding as part of £2.5 billion National Quantum Strategy,

Science Minister Andrew Griffith said: "From passenger flights to shipping, we all depend on navigation systems that are accurate, safe and secure. The scientific research we are supporting here on quantum technology could well provide the resilience to protect our interests.

"The fact that this technology has flown for the first time in British skies, is further proof of the UK as one of the world leaders on quantum.”

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