This month there is good news — great news, actually — where GPS and PNT (Position, Navigation and Timing) systems are concerned. On October 22, a Russian Soyuz rocket placed in orbit the first two validation satellites, built by EADS Astrium Germany, in the Galileo PNT constellation after making its maiden launch from Kourou. Don’t confuse these recent satellites with the earlier experimental satellites, GIOVE-A launched in 2005 followed by GIOVE-B launched in 2008. These initial satellites served to preserve the Galileo ITU frequency filings and test the first-ever space borne Hydrogen Maser atomic clock, which by all accounts is proving to be extremely accurate.
While it is interesting the Europeans decided on a Russian vehicle for the first Galileo dual launch, the U.S. recently pinned its hopes on a European Ariane Five (pictured at right) to launch a commercially hosted U.S. government payload known, appropriately enough, as the “Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload” or CHIRP sensor, which was specifically developed by the U.S. government as a test payload to test both the payload sensor capability and the commercially hosted options for sensor payloads in GEO. The CHIRP sensor features a fixed telescope that can view one quarter of the Earth from geosynchronous orbit. So it appears that hosted payloads and international launch cooperation efforts are growing and are apparently working successfully.
The two newest Galileo satellites deployed four hours after the Soyuz rocket lifted off from Kourou, in French Guiana.
The Soyuz launched the first two of four validation Galileo satellites designed to validate the Galileo concept by testing both space and ground operations. Two additional validation satellites are scheduled to follow in the summer of 2012. Once the In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase is completed, an additional 12 satellites will be launched to reach an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of 16 satellites sometime in 2014, and that date looks extremely doubtful.
According to our own Richard Langley, “During initial operations, the [Galileo] satellites will be controlled by a joint ESA and CNES French space agency team in Toulouse, France. Once that week-long phase ends, the satellites will be handed over to the Oberpfaffenhofen Galileo Control Centre near Munich, [Germany], operated by the DLR German Aerospace Center, which will be responsible for routine operations. Operating the satellite payloads to provide navigation services will be the task of the Fucino Control Centre, near Rome, operated by Telespazio.”
Now, does that sound like a confusing and expensive ground support system? Everybody and every country insist on their piece of the pie, regardless of efficiency and continuity of operations. Who knows this might work; only time will tell.
The approximately $7.5 billion Galileo constellation will eventually, hopefully, comprise a retinue of 27 operational satellites with three on orbit spares by 2020.
The PNT business is obviously good for the Russian launch business. Russia successfully launched a GLONASS-K1 test satellite back in February, followed by three GLONASS-M satellites this month into a constellation that finally, after 29 years, accounts for 23 operational and three hopefully soon-to-be operational satellites. The first operational GLONASS-K1 is not scheduled to be launched until sometime early in 2012. GLONASS satellites have historically proven to be fragile affairs with extremely short lifespans; it remains to see how long this number and capability will be maintained. Hopefully the new K1 and M generation GLONASS satellites have resolved many of the longevity issues. Only time will tell when and if the Russian GLONASS will ever regain Full Operational Capability (FOC), which requires 24 simultaneously operating satellites. The Russians were briefly FOC in December 1995, but unfortunately only for a few months. The word “simultaneous” is important as Russian scientisst frequently state they have 25 or 27 GLONASS satellites in orbit, but unfortunately only 22 or 23 of them are operating. But it is possible, miracles still happen, that by the time you read this GLONASS may actually legitimately have achieved FOC once again.
Now on the Boeing IIF side of the house, more good news as it was announced this week that the second IIF satellite (IIF-2), which has been operational with an elevated signal strength for several months, now has its signals back within the specified signal strength and is good to go. GPS IIF-3 was originally scheduled for launch this coming summer, but the latest launch schedules show the launch in September 2012, about 11 months from now. With 30+ operational GPS satellites on orbit plus residuals, hopefully this will be soon enough.
Apple & GLONASS
Always betting on the come, we now know that the late genius Steve Jobs directed his enterprising engineers to include GLONASS PNT software in the latest iPhone 4S; the latest version iPhone that sold 1.3 million units in one day. This effectively gives the iPhone 55 potential satellites to choose from for PNT information as well as the Wi-Fi, cellular tower, and SkyHook Wireless PNT information. With the addition of the GLONASS PNT resources, the iPhone may now well be the most versatile and capable general-purpose PNT platform that exists today. Is that a sad commentary for other GPS and mobile phone providers, a marketing challenge, or merely a positive sign of the technologically advanced times in which we live? It may in fact simply be a true reflection of the capabilities of the most recognized and profitable corporation in the world today. Apple is doing many things right, and one of them is listening to the consumer and giving them more than they expect. Consequently, customers are loyal and Apple Inc. surpassed Microsoft in market capitalization in 2010, and in 2011 became the most valuable consumer-facing brand in the world. Apple is a company Fortune magazine has named the most admired company in the United States for the last three years running. Apple iPhones and numerous PNT applications are certainly in use by thousands of our warfighters in and out of theater. Interesting, to say the least, plus food for thought and a topic for a future column.
The bad news not surprisingly comes via the U.S. government and no, it is not about LightSquared, because that situation continues to be worse than merely bad. No, the bad news comes in the form of a recently released but curiously out-of-date publication concerning GPS by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In late October 2011, the CBO released a publication entitled The Global Positioning System for Military Users: Current Modernization Plans and Alternatives.
I was unfortunate enough to receive both a soft and hard copy; and to make matters worse I don’t own a parakeet. The good news is we do have several fireplaces in our home and winter is rapidly approaching. Truthfully, the report is that bad and out of date, but at least it is boring and long. Fortunately hardly anyone is likely to actually endure the pain and suffering required to read through the entire document. However if you are a masochist and/or suffering from acute insomnia I highly recommend this CBO report as a possible cure. Some of you might justifiably complain I have no business giving medical advice because I am not a medical subject matter expert (SME) and I wholeheartedly agree, just as I agree that the CBO is definitely not a GPS SME and should stay with what they do know. Whatever that is.
I can assure you when and if the military needs advice concerning future GPS operations and options the last place they will or should turn is to the CBO. For example, the preface of the document clearly states, “In keeping with CBO’s mandate to provide objective, impartial analysis, this study makes no recommendations.” Contrary to what you may think this is actually good news, since now we don’t have to waste valuable time dealing with flawed recommendations; garbage in, garbage out. Now if only the analysis were impartial or objective, which it is decidedly not. I would even settle for accurate, which it is definitely not. The information in this document is in some cases, as in M-Code satellites, erroneous and confusing; it is out-of-date where the GPS III nomenclature and options are concerned, especially the spot-beam; and it is always misleading concerning objectivity that presents facts not in evidence. There is so much erroneous and misleading information in this report that I sincerely hope no one else reads it, especially our military users.
Seriously, all kidding aside, if you must read this document, consider it to be retitled as: The Global Positioning System for Military Users: Outdated Modernization Plans and Alternatives Not Currently Being Considered by the DoD.
Against my better judgment I am including a link to the CBO document for those of you who practice self-flagellation. I truly regret the number of tree lifespans cut short to produce this confusing, misleading, out-of-date, and totally unnecessary document. Sometime I will tell you how I really feel.
The Really Ugly
The “really ugly,” as you have probably surmised by now, refers to LightSquared and the clueless FCC. Can you believe we have been dealing with this fiasco for more than 12 months? You are probably tired of it all, I know I am, but I see that as a true danger signal. The situation is very clear technically, the LightSquared signals, both from the terrestrial transmitters and receivers, will significantly impair and jam GPS signals to the detriment of all GPS users. Of course the political and business ineptness continues apace so who knows how long we will be dealing with this issue, but we cannot afford to let down our guard. Although this is exactly what LightSquared, the FCC, and the current administration, in an upcoming Presidential election year, obviously hope will happen. They hope we will all just get tired of dealing or even hearing about this LightSquared mess and then they win by default. We all have more important matters demanding our attention, right? Of course we cannot and are not going to allow that to happen. We will continue to use LightSquared as a verb when necessary and keep the real facts front and center, right here in GPS World, until all aspects are resolved. You can count on it.
Until next time, happy navigating.