GPS System Could Start Failing by Next Year

May 20, 2009 by John Messina weblog
Global Positioning Satellite

( -- A federal watchdog agency has warned the U.S. Congress that the GPS system could start failing in 2010 and beyond. Due to delays in launching replacement satellites and other circumstances, the GPS systems risk the possibility of blackouts and failures starting next year.

As old satellites start to fail in 2010, 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. This will come to reality if the Air Force does not meet their schedule for the deployment of GPS IIIA satellites.

The latest GPS program is already $870 million over budget and there are significant technical problems that could still threaten its delivery schedule.

There are about 30 GPS satellites that are in now. The new satellites in the IIF block are three years late, and the first of them won't be launched until November at the earliest. Other factors such as the lack of a single authority responsible for GPS, have contributed also to the delays.

A GAO (Government Accountability Office) report recommends that the Department of Defense appoint a single authority to direct all development of GPS systems on the ground and in space.

As we all know the GPS is widely used by business and consumers in many modern automobiles that show or even tell drivers where they are and remind them when and where to turn to get where they're going. Owners of the Apple use the GPS service to call up a map on the screen and see exactly where they are.

The (GPS) is reliable, and free to the public and is taken for granted, but don't throw away those maps from the glove compartment just yet, since it's uncertain for how long the U.S. government can continue to deliver.

© 2009

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User comments : 11

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3.3 / 5 (4) May 20, 2009
Wow, i never realised its lifespan was this low... god it must be a mammoth task to maintain these satellites knowing that many people are now depending on them. I wonder how they get rid of the defective satellites still in orbit.
5 / 5 (3) May 20, 2009
In the wide world of things the US provides free to corporations and countries around the world I wonder if they will try to sue us in the world court for damages cause if their free service fails.
5 / 5 (3) May 20, 2009
bob -- well i figure most would burn up in reentry if the issue is due to orbit degredation, but the article does not point toward electronic issues or physical(orbit) issues

paul -- it would be a shame if you can be sued for the inability to provide a service that you have been giving away for free, expecially if you just cannot afford to continue -- are these companies in contract with the government, that would mean a law suit, but the article seems to indicate that the GPS service is totally free

QUESTION -- anyone know where to look up any and all free satelite information that is available for public use - i know you can buy chemical scans of areas ( really useful actually) -- anyone know of anything else freely ( or cheaply) provided by satelites?? and where to get it e.g. URL's
2 / 5 (3) May 20, 2009
weather sats and lots of tv channels are free.

need the equipment tho
4 / 5 (2) May 20, 2009
As i understand it both China and Russia have their own versions of GPS satellites. I wonder weather some sort of cooperative effort / standardization might be possible. or maybe devices that could use parts of multiple networks?
3 / 5 (2) May 20, 2009
So the system's wearing out ? No wonder EU Europeans began building their own system...
5 / 5 (2) May 20, 2009
Fear factor #64. The sky is falling and you wont know where you are!.
3.7 / 5 (3) May 20, 2009
The good old compass still points North, and everything has been pretty well mapped. Let the rest of the world help pay for these things!
1 / 5 (2) May 21, 2009
In the wide world of things the US provides free to corporations and countries around the world I wonder if they will try to sue us in the world court for damages cause if their free service fails.

Actually, we're building our own GPS system(Galileo). We're doing that because we can't rely on your system and for redundancy(in case either system fails there's a back-up).
3 / 5 (2) May 21, 2009
Notice that PhysOrg's John Messina wrote this article...which explains a lot about bias they let slip into other articles.

"Widely used"? That's meaningless hand waving.
5 / 5 (1) May 23, 2009
The GPS was primarily designed for the US Department of Defense. During conflicts, our military can selectively disable or degrade the system's availability or accuracy for other users to reserve its advantage. That is why Russia and China in particular want their own systems. Since this is the case, they most likely do NOT want them to be interoperable with GPS.

Isn't it nice to know that anybody can use American military equipment for free?

As an American, I find it a matter of concern that a critical military system has been allowed to run down this far. Our government is wasting money on things it has no business doing, such as bailing out bankers, while neglecting what it should do.

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