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Report says GPS system could start to fail within a year

A Federal watchdog agency has warned the US Congress that the Global Positioning System (GPS) faces the possibility of failures and blackouts. The report suggests that mismanagement and underinvestment by the US Air Force has put the entire GPS system at risk of failure in 2010 and beyond. The problem is due to delays in launching replacement satellites.

The US Government Accountability Office says, “In recent years, the Air Force has struggled to successfully build GPS satellites within cost and schedule goals as part of a US$2 billion modernization program. If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that 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 US government commits to.”

“Such a gap in capability could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users, though there are measures the Air Force and others can take to plan for and minimize these impacts,” the report continues. There is however time for corrective action to be taken. Speeding up future launches can solve the problem, with the first replacement satellite expected to be launched this November – some three years after the original launch date.

However, the American system is not alone: Russia, China, and India each have their own systems which are being expanded, and the European Union’s Galileo system – intended as a rival for GPS – is expected to start operating later this year. The delay and potential failure of GPS gives other nations the potential to rival the USA in space, something the US government is unlikely to accept.
 

May 22, 2009

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