GLONASS-M  (Source: Reshetnev Company)
More launches next year

Many consumers around the world use receivers capable of utilizing signals from the Global Positioning System (GPS). These are commonly found in automobile navigation systems, mobile phones, and laptop computers. Prices have come down dramatically over the last decade due to mass production, and companies have readily adopted the technology.

Russia also developed its own global navigation satellite system known as GLONASS. The first generation was launched at the height of the Cold War, but the fall of the Soviet Union meant that launches of the second generation satellites (known as GLONASS-M) didn't begin until 2007. Many satellites in the original constellation failed during that time, and many companies adopted the U.S. GPS system instead.

At least 18 satellites are needed in the GLONASS constellation to maintain coverage of Russian territory, and 21 for global coverage. The system today consists of 19 satellites, but only 16 are currently operational as one is being prepared for decommissioning and two are undergoing maintenance, according to the Russian Space Agency.

A Proton rocket launched three more GLONASS-M satellites into orbit today, and the Russian Space Agency is rushing them into service. Three new third generation satellites (GLONASS-K) will be launched in February in order to restore global coverage. Russia hopes to have 30 satellites in the constellation sometime during 2011, in order to increase reliability and signal strength.

The European Union is also planning its own global navigation satellite system known as Galileo, which would have a higher degree of precision over GPS. The first launch of Galileo satellites is planned for next year. Receivers capable of using signals from all three systems have been designed which would be capable of a much higher level of reliability and accuracy.

"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings

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