Locata Warns: Lessons to Be Learned from GLONASS Spasm

April 15, 2014  - By

Calling it an “unprecedented and deeply worrying total disruption . . . [that] shook the industry,” Locata Corporation reiterated its call for redundant terrestrial systems to back up GNSS in the wake of the April 1 11-hour GLONASS system outage.

Nunzio Gambale, Locata CEO, said “We have been telling the industry for years that you cannot have a critically important capability like GPS without also having a backup! What is Plan B if the satellite systems fail? What replaces the space signal when there is a problem? If anyone needed a sign to understand why Locata has spent years inventing and developing the world’s first local terrestrial equivalent of the GPS system, then last week’s meltdown of a complete global satellite navigation system is it. This event should terrify every nation, government, and company that depends on navigation satellites for their business or, in some cases, their very lives.”

The navigation and timing functions of the global positioning systems underpin the world’s banking systems, stock exchanges, digital TV and Internet, cell phone networks, and, in some cases, the national electricity supply, Locata pointed out. GPS, in particular, plays a crucial role in transportation, shipping, and logistics, serving as the enabling technology for critical functions like air traffic control. Reliability is therefore not just important; it is essential across all applications. Locata, the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation (RNTF) in Washington, D.C., and others have persistently called attention to the need for redundant terrestrial systems that will back up expensive, vulnerable, and aging global satellite navigation constellations while simultaneously providing the local control and resiliency that satellite-based systems cannot deliver.

Professor Chris Rizos of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales stated that “This catastrophic failure of one of the world’s two global satellite navigation constellations is a wakeup call for all of us. We ignore the possibility of these ‘Black Swan’ events at our own peril.”

The GLONASS disruption was felt around the world, immediately upon its origination, especially in professional applications, such as tractor automation for farming, machine control and robotics in mining and heavy industry, and in the national infrastructure used by surveyors and industry across many countries.

“This shows just how interlinked the physical and cyber worlds have now become,” added Professor Brett Biddington, a space and cybersecurity expert from the School of Computer and Security Science at Edith Cowan University, Australia. “The prospect of a software glitch, whether unintentional or intentional, seems highly likely [as a cause for the failure]. If it was a deliberate attack, however, it points to a changing face of warfare where the real enemy may be impossible to detect and deter until very damaging strikes, such as an attack on the GPS system, have already taken place.

“The vital point here is that this is no longer just a question for scientists and technologists. A locally controlled backup system for this essential signal is a national policy question of the highest order.”

Locata Corporation and other industry authorities have long testified on global satellite navigation vulnerabilities and the need for diverse technology options to strengthen and back up GPS, GLONASS, and other systems. Locata developed a robust solution and has been awarded a sole-source contract by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to provide its terrestrially based alternative positioning for military applications where GPS has been completely jammed. The first wide-area Locata system is being deployed now at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The USAF demonstrated that the White Sands Locata network delivers what has been extremely high accuracy over a 2,500-square mile area, positioning aircraft flying up to 35 miles away to an accuracy of better than six inches.

A pair of LocataLite transmit antennas overlook a section of the White Sands Missile Range blanketed by the Locata high-precision ground-based positioning system.

A pair of LocataLite transmit antennas overlook a section of the White Sands Missile Range blanketed by the Locata high-precision ground-based positioning system.

“There is no other technology that can do this, and it’s delivered in the complete absence of GPS,” continued Gambale. “What is being demonstrated at White Sands is that Locata supplies precisely the same function as GPS, even when there is no GPS available. That’s exactly what you need if the satellites fail.

“If this event had been a GPS failure instead of a GLONASS failure – and it could very easily have been – then the entire world would have plunged into a catastrophe. This event is the navigation equivalent of a ‘close call moment,’ and from here on out no one can even question that this is a really serious problem that must be addressed. Another industry expert recently told me, ‘If there was a sustained GPS outage, it would cause a global financial nuclear winter from which it would take us decades to recover.’”

Gambale concluded, “We need action to develop local backups like Locata around places like airports and other strategically important areas – now! We must not wait until we are faced with another seemingly impossible event like a complete satellite constellation failure. We may not dodge this bullet a second time.”

Locata terrestrial positioning technologies complement GPS by setting up ground-based transmitters, called LocataLites, to create a local constellation called a LocataNet. Once properly deployed, Locata’s unique nanosecond-accurate TimeLoc system synchronizes the network, which allows it to replicate the positioning capabilities of GPS, locally. LocataNets operate today in environments ranging from small warehouses to open-cut mines, wide-area aircraft approach-and-landing systems, and wider areas for aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) uses.

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2 Comments on "Locata Warns: Lessons to Be Learned from GLONASS Spasm"

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  1. brian M says:

    Not sure if the Locata system is the best solution as don’t know enough about the system. But the eLoran seems to be a very cost effective ground based system with good range and accuracy. Plus its an active system in the UK and some other countries.

    The GLONASS was hardly a total disaster as other system were out there, and there are now low cost dual and triple system Satnav set coming on to the market, so in the future It would need something to take out 3 separate systems (or more!)

    The real worry is if something takes out the actual satellites perhaps a severe solar flare or a meteor strike. The cost of an eLoran back up would then seem a very low cost to have paid!

  2. Tom Y says:

    Locata is a great product but not a global solution.

    While no system is perfect I believe GPS has better mechanism in place to prevent such fault that happened to GLONASS.

    Nevertheless this incident is a good wake up call to system builders and manufacturers to build more robustness into their systems and software.