New laser will give Russia major accuracy advantage over US GPS network

3 Oct 2018

Image: © Jose Luis Stephens/

Russian scientists have developed an incredibly precise laser that makes Russia’s own GPS much more accurate than the US version.

In an effort to make our satellites even more accurate, Russian researchers have developed a laser so precise that it can measure the distance between Earth and the moon to just a few millimetres.

Having this knowledge is important in managing satellites as it helps accurately find their coordinates in accordance with the lunar mass influence. For example, both GPS and its Russian equivalent GLONASS are based on accurate measurement of the distance between a terrestrial object and several artificial satellites.

In a paper published online, the researchers from ITMO University in Russia revealed their laser. It is quite small by comparison to similar lasers, with low radiation divergence and a unique combination of short pulse duration, high pulse energy and high pulse repetition rate. This allows the laser to pulse at 64 picoseconds, or 16bn times less than one second.

Additionally, the laser beam’s divergence – which determines radiation brightness at large distances – has been pushed to its theoretical limit, but is several times lower than the indicators for similar devices.

Accuracy down to 10cm

“Actually, creating a laser with a pulse duration of tens of picoseconds is no longer technically difficult,” said Roman Balmashnov of the research team. “However, our laser’s output pulse energy is at least twice higher than that of its analogues.”

The researchers envision that the new laser will be used in a laser locator of the GLONASS navigation system, making it possible to correct satellite coordinates calculating in real time. This would make the Russian system more accurate than its US GPS counterpart, with a margin of error reduced to just 10cm.

Andrey Mak of the research team also said that the lasers could be used for imaging orbital objects, such as space debris. “The laser we’ve developed is cutting-edge by several criteria,” he said. “According to our data, it is the most powerful pulse-periodic picosecond source of laser radiation in the world.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic