Parkinson Prescribes Remedy for GAO Report Alarm

May 26, 2009  - By

Brad Parkinson, the first GPS Program Office Director, chief architect and advocate for GPS, submitted written testimony to Congress on mitigation options for possible GPS brownouts. His presentation comes in reference to the recent GAO report highlighting the risk that the GPS constellation may fall below the minimum level of 24 satellites required for full operational capability.  In his opening, Parkinson states that “GAO correctly points out the possibility that the GPS constellation will be reduced to less than the current number of 30 to 32 satellites.  In fact, it is possible that the constellation will be at a level of less than 24 satellites. I would like to focus on the options that would help reduce this risk.”

Parkinson chides those who may not have been paying attention over the last two years, at least. “It should be noted that the risk of brownouts has been repeatedly pointed out by the independent review teams,” he states, referencing the the Defense Science Board, the GPS Independent Review Team, and the Pos-Nav Timing Advisory Board, who have all stated all that “30 satellites is the correct number.” He points out that the European Galileo program and the Chinese Compass system have also arrived at that number.

“Although brownouts would only be ‘officially’ declared at levels below 24, anything below the current level of 30 satellites is a cause for concern. The potential economic impact if the number were below 24 may be quite serious.”

To rectify the situation, Parkinson first gives a history lesson. The first GPS satellite went from contract award to launch in 44 months. “The keys to success were a streamlined approval chain (all the way up the OSD chain), severe restrictions on any contract changes, and an integrated product team.” He believes that GPS IIIA can achieve the same — given the same playing conditions.

Spartan. He does throw in one twist not currently in the plans: “To develop a simplified GPS IIIA based design, Spartan satellite (IIIS) that would not include the extra payloads, and, once designed, could be built quickly and launched into space with two satellites on a booster.  This would be done in parallel with the current program.”

Parkinson appears to advocate complete abandonment of the IIF line. “The reason is simply that the satellite design is old and relies on parts that are no longer available.  In addition, the satellite, while providing the older signals, does not meet current requirements.”

He closes with a final admonition. “Above all, the senior decision making chain has to become a part of the solution. This means that they do everything in their power to help the program office achieve the needed schedule.”

Click here for the full Powerpoint file of Brad Parkinson’s presentation, including detailed notes.

Footage of live testimony given at the Congressional hearing is also online.


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