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The US Air Force needs to act now, report says

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."

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RE: Definite problem
By Shadowself on 5/20/2009 10:20:31 AM , Rating: 2
This is similar to the concept behind the EU's Gallileo constellation.

RE: Definite problem
By PrinceGaz on 5/20/2009 11:37:18 AM , Rating: 4
... and the Russian's GLONASS which is almost fully operational again, and will be in a few months (Galileo is still a few years from completion).

Then there is the Chinese COMPASS system currently in its early stages, but you can be sure once they are happy with the design, they'll be sending up rockets with the satellites on faster than any other country.

The thing is, all of these alternative/additional options will provide a free lower-accuracy service to all users worldwide in addition to the higher-accuracy one which has to be paid for, and this lower-accuracy service is good enough for all ordinary uses of these devices. The consumer GPS market is very competitive where every penny counts, so the vast majority of devices sold will use the free services rather than one which involves a license fee.

One thing for sure is that there is going to be an awful lot more navigational satelittes up there in a few years. 24+spares for GPS. 24+spares for GLONASS. 30 (inc spares) for Galileo. 30 for COMPASS (plus 5 more in geo-stationery orbit).

Even if GPS did become unreliable, there would be plenty of alternative systems for devices to use (provided they had been designed to be compatible with them).

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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