GPS Antenna Mods Make Starlink Terminal Immune To Jammers

A bias tee module added inside the Starlink terminal, connected to the pads where a GPS antenna used to be wired

The Starlink receivers need positioning and precise timing information to function, and currently the best way to get that information is to use a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) such as GPS. Unfortunately, the antenna used for this secondary satellite connection leaves something to be desired. Of course, when it comes to solving Starlink problems, there’s no one best than [Oleg Kutkov], whose duty is to fix and improve upon Starlink terminals used in Ukraine — and when the specific problem is GPS bands getting jammed by the invading military, you better believe that a fix is due.

[Oleg] sets the scene, walking us through the evolution of GPS circuitry on the Starlink terminals. Then he shows us the simplest mods you can do, like soldering an improved passive antenna in place of the chip antenna currently being used. Then, he takes it up a notch, and shows us how you could attach an active antenna by using a bias tee module, a mod that would surely work wonders on more than just this device! Then, he brings out the test result tables — and the differences are impressive, in that the Starlink terminals with active antenna mods were able to get GPS signal in areas with active jamming going on, while the unmodified ones could not.

The post is exceptionally accessible, and a must read for anyone wondering about GPS antenna reception problems in customer-accessible devices. This is not the only Starlink hardware mod we’ve seen [Oleg] make, we’ve just covered his Starlink Ethernet port restoration journey that meticulously fixes Ethernet connectivity oversights in the newer models, and the blog also has an article about powering Starlink terminals without the need for PoE, so, do check it out if you’re looking for more!

68 thoughts on “GPS Antenna Mods Make Starlink Terminal Immune To Jammers

    1. He could but why would he? Most of his users aren’t going to be trying to use Starlink in areas that are being jammed. So for the vast majority of people moving from a chip antenna to a better antenna just isn’t worth it, it’s an added cost with no benefit.

      1. Most people don’t depend on a Starlink connection to survive and/or protect their country. They do, and this mod feels cheaper then a life or the waste of ammunition

        1. Yes this mod is good for this specific use case, I never denied that, but why would Elon implement this upgrade on Starlink in general when most people don’t need it?

      2. I’d suggest at least the provision for adding a better external antenna would be worth it to many users of Starlink given how important it is to the basic functionality. GPS from tiny board antenna rarely seem to get good and its not just in war zones the signal gets jammed a bit (order of magnitude difference to deliberate electronic warfare I’d hope, but tiny board antenna still tend to be terrible so actually getting the real signal…

        No idea how bad the Starlink stock antenna is, but every device I’ve ever tested without a good external antenna struggles…

        1. Yeah, I’ve had cell phones and even older handheld GPS devices which could barely sync up above a certain latitude, even when held stationary in an excellent position, much less against interference.

      3. Large parts of eastern Europe have been suffering from GPS jamming over the last year or more so yes this is needed now even at places that aren’t currently at war with Russia but would likely expand to South East Asia if the Chinese were to make a move against Taiwan.

      1. You’re right, he’s rich because he started rich, invested in promising companies, and rides his workers into the ground. And acts very similar to that old tail of the CEO that goes and rips parts off of equipment until it starts to fail and then takes 1 step back to get a minimally viable product. He’s lucky that his companies have had enough cool factor to attract people that out up with their lower than average wages.

        1. Re-useable rockets that are able to fly into orbit, spin around, then autonomously land under their own power, do not represent a “minimally viable product”.

          Jealousy and ignorance are very unflattering trait, please get help.

          1. He bought the tesla company as a billionaire and was saved from bankruptcy when his rockets failed by the US government. Like, no-one can fail in that situation?

    2. Two reasons why that’s unlikely
      1) There’s little to no money it in. (Other than Ukraine, is this really an issue?)
      2) The guy is actively rooting for the Russians. Why would he make it more difficult for them?

          1. The only parts of Russian controlled space Starlink is active are areas the US Government demanded they make active. The people he demanded pay was the US Government, not Ukraine, and only after the US Government demanded he allow Ukraine to use it on their weapons like the SeaBaby drones.

  1. I enjoyed Oleg’s blog post. The curmudgeon in me feels obligated to point out that “Immune to jammers” is a bold claim and one that Pan Kutkov never makes. Consider “jam resistant” or “less sensitive to jamming” as alternative headlines.

  2. I wonder if location could be provided separately (assuming you know where you are) and a rubidium reference would work for clock. Even best GPS receivers have +- 10 ns timing uncertainty, and most are closer to +- 1 µs. An affordable rubidium reference drifts a few ns per day. As a retrofit, one could simulate the signal that a GPS antenna would see and feed it to the cable

    I expect that the starlink signal itself is quite resistant to jamming because of beamforming.

  3. One could create a GPS simulator with externally fed location information and a rubidium time reference. The starlink signal itself is probably relatively resistant to jamming due to beamforming.

    1. Starlink could be its own “GPS” of sorts. On the one hand, it would be expensive with as precise clocks. On the other hand, maybe it would work with less precise clocks, because there are so many more StarLinks to triangulate from, and the terminal doesn’t actually need to know exactly where it is. It needs to know where it is to be able to home in on the satellite it’s talking to.

  4. All very good, but not as useful as it could be if Musk would start offering free starlink connectivity to dissidents in repressive regimes which censor and/or surveil any surface-level cabled internet. Being in orbit a repressive regime cannot send goond round to threaten telecom company personnel, all they can do is threaten to use anti-satellite missiles. Many repressive regimes haven’t the budget to develop ASAT missiles anyway, and those which do have them dare not use them lest they cause kessler syndrome and ruin all the expensive reconaissance assets they have in orbit. ELON MUSK please listen: starlink as an anti-censorship tool is a win-win which no country can, in practice, block. Those countries might block payments for starlink, they do have too much control of banks within their borders, but you could make it free to dissidents in repressive regimes, which would let you announce it as a humanitarian effort. A contract you make with a rebellious resident in a repressive regime to supply them uncensored satellite internet is none of the business of the government which wrongfully rules their region, it is between you and the user, and you can do good and righteous things for your users.

    1. Define “dissident” and define “repressive regime” and stick to those definitions and back it up with teeth, or else this is pointless.

      Right now the definition of “repressive regime” is “country which has had a color revolution or is slated for one in the future,” and all of those are 100% cooked up by the DoD, it’s not even something we try to hide anymore. FYI Ukraine was the orange revolution. At least they finally got rid of Victoria Nuland… Maybe.

      1. And it is also essential to note that there are dissidents and regimes which if Elon started aiding them, he would immediately receive a visit from spooks to make sure he stopped. And he’d face federal charges.

        Dissidents the US MIC supports: Have at it, MSNBC will tell you which cause is virtuous and direct you where to donate your dollars
        Dissidents the US MIC does not support: terrorists and insurgents and evildoers. If you do so much as contact them, you will meet the State at your front door.

      2. Personally I’d define a repressive regime as anywhere which invests heavily in surveillance capabilities, censorship capabilities, or which jails people for things which normal people would say are not crimes, or which infiltrates state institutional demands in to nearly every aspect of private life and business. Hence most non-western, and most western, countries are on that list. The UK holds Assange in jail, without trial, at the behest of the USA. The USA has a government working closely with big tech to wipe out any speech opposed to their narratives. Canada freezes truckers bank accounts. Russia kills political opponents in jail. France, Spain and Poland use excessive bureaucracy to drive farmers out of business. A country with a capital starting Be and ending in jing (country’s name seems to get posts on here blocked) is oppressive beyond believe with facial recognition and credit monitoring. NZ spent 2020-2021-2022 at war with a segment of their population who simply didn’t want an medicine for themselves. Australia bans the teaching of cryptography. India has regional internet shutdowns on a regular basis. An anti-censorship anti-surveillance satellite internet service would struggle to find a country to operate from, but upon finding one (maybe Japan might work?, or Sweden?, or Argentina if the new president gets his way?, or a newly independent Florida broken free from Washington?) it would have its work cut out supplying censorproof internet to everyone else, plenty of customers around the world.

        1. Do you really think these places would just let people get around censorship by using Starlink? They just need to look for satellite dishes on the roof to find someone using it.

        2. ‘Right’, did you actually READ your post, before pressing send?

          Comparing Putler’s Kleptocracy to the west…?)

          Let’s take Assange, for example..

          Why is he still in the UK, not the US..?

          Musk has been a BIG disappointment and proves that having too much money and influence is not always a good thing.

    2. Satellite dishes need line of sight. All you have to do to catch people using Starlink is to look for white dishes on the roof which is easy to spot with drones or planes.

      This isn’t as good a solution as you may think.

      1. For one, the dishes don’t have to be white. Also, the dishes don’t have to be exposed (ie, you could put a tarp over them and they’d still work fine).

        For the unwary, they could be a problem. But people who live in oppressive regimes tend to be very wary.

    3. You obviously don’t know how radio transmitters and receivers work.

      There are oscillator inside them that can be tracked.

      The British used to do this to bust people with unlicensed (untaxed) televisions.

      It’s not hard to do. I’ve done it with a couple hundred dollars in consumer level SDR equipment and a laptop.

      Most governments have a ton more money than I do.

  5. SpaceX pushed an update early in the Ukraine war where Starlink uses it’s own Ku band signals to do position and time synchronization. This made it totally immune to GPS jamming. Only recently did Elon choose to disable this capability. Unclear why.

    1. Quote
      “SpaceX pushed an update early in the Ukraine war where Starlink uses it’s own Ku band signals to do position and time synchronization. This made it totally immune to GPS jamming. Only recently did Elon choose to disable this capability. Unclear why.”

      Because Elon did not want anyone using Starlink as a targeting system.

      Once that happens, jamming or attacking the satalites becomes an easier sell.

      1. Good point I think part of the issue is that SNR for GPS is so low that the penumbra of jamming is huge and maybe filtering is more useful there. If nothing else it may allow you to detect jamming and likely direction to try and escape.

        Nor is it entirely practicable to modify it for jam resistance.

        Unpopular opinion but starlink is civilian tech and shouldn’t be militarised.

  6. So when heavy rain disrupts my StarLink, is it loss of satellite signal, or loss of GPS causing the terminal to forget it’s position in space-time? If the latter, especially on fixed-location terminals, shouldn’t it be sufficient to keep a clock running or tunnel NTP in-band (or allow NTP out-of-band)?

    1. NTP is not sufficient. This is not the way NTP is intended to be used as NTP was designed for choosing between multiple sources with stable and fairly symmetric path latencies. NTP has no accuracy guarantee on any link, but you might expect on the order 10-100ms or so on satellite WAN links given the widely varying path latency from multipath and scheduling (it can give sub-ms accuracy between hosts on a well-managed LAN). A GNSS disciplined local clock will give you stable microseconds level accuracy and that will be plenty good enough, and that’s exactly what the article is already talking about, GPS time.

  7. The data signal could absolutely be jammed but Russians don’t have airborne jammers with the correct equipment to spare. Bare-bones GPS jamming with a high power ground station is simpler and can be done with off the shelf equipment, albeit it’s also less effective against high gain antennas

  8. Jamming from the air or space easily identifies the jammer. Terrestrial or land based jamming is the most common. The Starlink system only operates down to 25 degrees above the horizon when the sat you are into gets that low the system switches you to another sat. Place your *L antenna in a large metal tub, maybe a sawed off 55 gallon drum or something fashioned out of sheet metal. Place the panel antenna within the tub and below the rim such that the panel can only see the sky above 25 degrees of the rim. The effect a jammer some distance away from the antenna will have a reduced impact on the terminal. If anyone has tried this, please comment on your results. Tks.

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