Air Force rebuts gov't auditor concerns about GPS

Sep 24, 2010 By DAN ELLIOTT , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- A government report raising questions about the future reliability of the Global Positioning System satellite network is "overly pessimistic," Air Force commanders said Friday.

A report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the latest was launched almost 3 1/2 years behind schedule, and further delays could leave the system with fewer than the 24 orbiting satellites it needs as older models wear out and quit working.

Col. David Buckman of the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., said the report's facts were correct, but "we think it draws overly pessimistic conclusions based on those facts."

Buckman said satellites currently in the design or construction phase are on schedule and the Air Force has 31 healthy, operational satellites in orbit.

Even if the count did drop below 24 - which Buckman said was unlikely - most users, including some military applications, wouldn't be affected, he said.

GPS has become nearly indispensable, with untold numbers of receivers in everything from cars and cell phones to military weapons. The receivers can determine their position, their path and the time of day using signals from the satellites, which are launched and operated by the Air Force.

Col. Bernard Gruber, commander of the GPS Wing at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., estimated that there are 750 million GPS users worldwide.

A May 2009 GAO report cast doubt on whether the Air Force could acquire new satellites in time to prevent an interruption in service as older satellites die.

A follow-up report released Sept. 15 credited the Air Force with making improvements but warned that a delay in launching one of the next-generation satellites could still drop the number of operational orbiting satellites to less than 24.

In a conference call with reporters Friday, Buckman and Gruber acknowledged that the has no spare satellites ready to launch if an orbiting satellite fails, but they pointed to the fact that the system already has more than it needs in orbit.

"We'd like to have more in the barn, (but) we have very robust constellation on orbit right now that's well above the minimum number that were required to have on orbit," Buckman said.

"I think GPS is extremely strong today," he said.

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User comments : 7

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1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2010
Id say people have become dependant on GPS and any disruption no matter how small would likely cause

1. accidents, road deaths.
2. companies and people to lose there jobs.
3. All sorts of disorientation and detrimental impacts on services.

I would hardly attribute the term pessimistic to people dying and losing there jobs.

In fact I applaud the concern raised and raise a further concern on the people in the air force rebuttal service. I believe they should undergo phychiatric appointments sooner rather than later.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2010
So all the sats we have are in orbit, including the spares. So if something happens like a record breaking solar flare, or cosmic ray burst, or some jackass like Kim Jong Il detonates a nuke in outer space they could all be fried instantly? No GPS for years?

I have to agree having some "in the barn" would be a good idea.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2010
Well its a global positioning system, id imagine it would be quite hard to destroy every satellite at once.
2.5 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2010
if you think they dont have the legacy generation of sattelites on hand as extras, you'd be nuts...the military doesn't build 1, it builds 2-3 of everything from the cheapest bidder...coincidentally why the shelf life is lowered...

civilian GPS isn't as accurate, and it is simply a side offering from the military to the commercial sector. The military can simply say they won't allow commercial usage of their satellites neigh sayers simply be glad the military allows you to even have a tom-tom...its not built for you, its built for soldiers to get through deserts and dense forests without a lensatic compass...not to mention more accurately targeting their position than determination based off of topography maps...

To the solar flare would likely only wipe the brunt of those on the side of the earth facing the sun, as the others would be in the tail of the magnetosphere's tail and mostly protected...and btw, Kim Jong can't even get something into orbit...
1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2010
...Kim Jong is a JOKE!!!...he;s got a big army, but a big army with AK47s that can't hit a barn from 100 yards is NOT a concern...

@Bob-I agree entirely...they would have to hack the air force's network (which involves MANY firewalls and would be an astronomical task for anyone outside of enemy governments-which would result in declaration of war against that government)...but IF someone could manage that, they could simply set the flight paths for collisions OR send a worm to continuously reboot the satellites...
1 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2010
think line of sight take out enough, you take out the system...this would HAVE to be taking out AT LEAST 1 of every three satellites within close range though based on how the GPS system functions (which essentially requires 3 satellites to validate positions if I recall correctly)
not rated yet Sep 27, 2010
What, nobody can read a map anymore? Consumer level GPS systems are notoriously inaccurate and I am sure everybody knows at least one person that has gotten lost, solely using GPS. GPS is a great tool but don't empty out your brain and allow a device to lead you by the nose with no secondary analog or manual backup. Try using a GPS in downtown Chicago, New York, Denver or other skyscraper paradise, you will be frustrated as all get-out in using just GPS. There should be no reason why someone should die or lose their job by being reliant on GPS. We survived fine for many millennia without GPS and we can still in the future.

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