There is growing concern that the current global positioning system network of satellites used by the United States is aging and will begin to routinely fail starting in 2010, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicates.
The U.S. Air Force now uses 30 different GPS satellites -- which launched into orbit in the early 1990s -- and has become noticeably less reliable and may be sending inaccurate navigational information to people using mobile GPS units.
In 2010 "as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to," the GAO's "Global Positioning System: Significant Challenges in Sustaining and Upgrading Widely Used Capabilities" report claims.
The US government is expected to invest almost $6 billion into new GPS satellite technology over the next four years, in an attempt to try and get back on schedule after suffering several years of "significant" technical issues. If the Air Force is unable to get back on track, however, the GAO warns there could be wide-ranging ramifications for all GPS users.
As there is growing concern regarding GPS, Boeing recently lost a lawsuit that would have prevented the Air Force from disclosing Boeing GPS satellites cost. Boeing believes Lockheed Martin, the company's biggest competitor, may be behind the request, which was filed several years ago under a Freedom of Information request.
A few years ago only specialized GPS units made use of GPS, but now many mobile phones and smartphones now utilize the technology for consumers to enjoy. Furthermore, an even larger number of new cars are shipping from the factory with built-in GPS units.
However, there is a much larger concern regarding possible intercontinental flights being canceled or delayed, and the military's reduced amount of "smart bombs" for use in Afghanistan.
It should be interesting to see if the Air Force is able to straighten out budget issues and make sure there isn't a serious GPS gap in the coming years. Military officials said its IIIA block of satellites will be launched three years earlier than planned, but the GAO report said it's "optimistic given the program's late start, past trends in space acquisitions, and challenges facing the new contractor."