GPS getting an upgrade - for $8 billion


( -- GPS is getting an upgrade costing $8 billion (US), which aims to increase the system's accuracy, improve its reliability, and make the technology even more widespread.

The (GPS) is almost everywhere these days, not just as navigational aids in vehicles and mobile phones but in many everyday industrial and commercial applications. GPS enables courier companies to track their shipments, for example, and it enables ATMs and financial institutions to time-stamp transactions. It is used in emergency hospital paging systems, and helps firefighters to find fires. Colonel David B. Goldstein, chief engineer for the upgrade said they know the world relies on GPS, but the ever increasing number of devices using GPS also increases the strain on the system.

GPS uses a “constellation” of 24 satellites orbiting approximately 11,000 miles above the surface of the Earth, and the orbits are arranged so that at any time there are always at least a half dozen or so satellites above. GPS receivers pinpoint their location by working out exactly how far they are away from at least three or four of the by analyzing the radio-frequency signals transmitted continuously by the satellites. They receive extremely accurate information on the time from atomic clocks in the satellites.

As part of the $8 billion upgrade the satellites will be replaced one by one to minimize the chance of disruption. Boeing Co’s Space and Intelligence Systems and are constructing 30 new satellites between them, which will allow for six spare satellites to be available if needed. The new satellites will eventually triple the signals available for commercial use. The equipment on the satellites will include even more accurate able to keep time to a fraction of a billionth of a second.

The upgraded system will significantly increase the accuracy, allowing a location to be pinpointed to within just a couple of feet instead of the current +/-20 feet margin of error. It will also make the system faster, and there will be provision to prevent disruptions such as accidental jamming of GPS, which in the recent past have caused disruption to emergency services and mobile phone services, as well as causing power outages.

GPS was originally developed by the Pentagon over 30 years ago at the Los Angeles Air Force base in El Segundo. Until GPS was developed vessels such as nuclear submarines, submerged for months at a time, had no precise way of knowing exactly where they were, and this meant the accuracy of any missiles fired would have been diminished. When the system was proposed by Air Force Colonel Bradford W. Parkinson three decades ago he was told it would be useless, and it had no future.

An El Segundo team of scientists and engineers is among those working on the upgrade, which is expected to take around a decade. Senior space analyst for research company Teal Group, Marco Caceres, said the upgraded system will be able to deliver capabilities we have not seen before.

The satellites used globally for GPS are controlled by the Pentagon in the U.S., but the European Union, China and Russia are all attempting to build their own GPS to reduce their reliance on U.S. military technology.

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Citation: GPS getting an upgrade - for $8 billion (2010, May 25) retrieved 19 September 2019 from
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User comments

May 25, 2010
I don't understand. If it's freely available, why would any country bother sending up a half dozen to dozen multi million dollar satellites to do what GPS does, but not as well?

May 25, 2010
The military advantages to owning one's own GPS are obvious. Also, the US military has access to channels of GPS that are more secured against jamming than the civilian channels.

May 25, 2010
since it is used by commercial and private aircraft as the primary navigation device (at least the most relied upon nav device) turning the system off to prevent others from using it would be a disaster...I can't imagine it happening.

May 25, 2010
Competition is healthy. My understanding of GPS state of the art is that we (or more accurately the U.S. military) already has GPS resolution down to a couple of feet. Given that precision in location is improving with every new development in the field, it is not improbable that the Europeans or Chinese develop a system that is accurate to within inches, and that we would all benefit by that.

Furthermore, it is not inconceivable that the GPS signals, which are currently available universally, are encoded so that in times of extreme crisis only the U.S. military would have access to the technology. It is paramount for other world powers to be prepared for their own security. Where there is balance in military capability, there is the opportunity for deferment of any military option, and that is a good thing.

May 25, 2010
A few odd lines in this article.
First of all the statement, 'the ever increasing number of devices using GPS also increases the strain on the system', is totally wrong. GPS signals are broadcast from the satellites and received by the units and more users makes no difference to the signals on the ground.
Second is that the Russian GLONASS system is already operational and have been used since the 1980's.

May 25, 2010
your government wants to know where you are to within a few feet of your position -- beef up the gps and just scatter bugs (err gps chips and transmitters) into virtually everything. It's great for managing sheeple.

May 25, 2010
your government wants to know where you are to within a few feet of your position -- beef up the gps and just scatter bugs (err gps chips and transmitters) into virtually everything. It's great for managing sheeple.

Do you come by your paranoia genetically or is it just chemically induced? A random mutation perhaps?

May 25, 2010
This article is bogus:
First, were there an infinite number of ground receivers, they would not burden the sat's one iota!
Secondly: the capability of present Mil. GPS is +/- 1 cm.
That's TODAY .. To suggest that the goal is to increase accuracy to be in 'feet' is a falsehood.

May 26, 2010
"the upgraded system will be able to deliver capabilities we have not seen before"
Well we will have seen it before if it takes that long as they say because Galileo will be operational by then.

May 26, 2010
GPS devices don't send signals back do they? Like the car gps map, all it does is read 3 or more signals and compare distances to triangulate so nothing is needed to communicate back?

If so than yeah, whats the 'strain' on the satellites?

May 30, 2010

We were taught in AJROTC -- thats high school ROTC that current capabilities were within the 1 meter range -- to say a centimeter I would not say is unreasonable -- a basic class on military map reading and coordinate designation suggests not only the possibility but its reality.

@ DAveGee

there is no need for the use of GPS in your cell phone -- because you normally register with every tower in your area and transmit back signal strenght its simple triangluation from there -- but in your defense a lot of cell phones now have GPS capability and could send this as a signal back to your wireless proivider...

BUT -- all you have to do is pull the RFP's for cell phone authintication and read up on it for yourself

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