In November, December, and January, a regulatory drama with high potential impact on the GPS signal and domestic U.S. GPS users began unfolding before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). As this magazine goes to press on January 24, the issue remains far from resolved, although hearings and far-reaching decisions may have transpired by mid-February.
A company called LightSquared applied to the FCC in late November for modification of its authority for ancillary terrestrial component (ATC). It asked the FCC to grant it permission to broadcast a co-primary terrestrial wireless service in the L-band frequencies typically reserved for space systems and radionavigation satellite services. Lightsquared wants to broadcast in those frequencies, not only from space but from powerful terrestrial transmitters that could effectively overload the GPS signal for millions of users in metropolitan areas across the United States. LightSquared asked the FCC to fast-track its request.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has expressed its concern that LightSquared’s proposal to sell wholesale terrestrial-only services could interfere with navigation and E-911 systems. NTIA is concerned that terrestrial-based devices operating in the mobile satellite services band could interfere with GPS timing receivers, aeronautical communications, and the Inmarsat mobile satellite service used by the Department of Defense.
Write to Congress. Members of the GPS community who are concerned by the proposal may contact their Congressional representatives, to advocate for a fully independent technical study by the NTIA before the FCC takes any action. Contact information and appropriate case file numbers are given at www.gpsworld.com/fcc.
The FCC may have decided not to follow the Administrative Procedures Act, which directs it to consider a waiver request under an open and transparent rule-making, so that all affected parties may comment. It appears that the FCC could grant a waiver to LightSquared for a terrestrial wireless broadband service, but condition the service going operational on interference studies. Lightsquared has proposed that such studies be conducted under its own direction.
Voices within the GPS community have asked for an independent, third-party, unbiased technical analysis to precede a fact-based rule-making, rather than a study organized and led by the interested party.
LightSquared previously received authorization to build a hybrid network using satellite and terrestrial-based communications. The waiver would allow its wholesale customers to offer terrestrial-only services. The company’s buildout is scheduled to include a 40,000-cell-site terrestrial network deployed by Nokia Siemens Networks that will cover around 90 percent of the population of the United States.
The trade publication RCR Wireless reported that Lightsquared may have run short of funds. “The company has raised about $2 billion to date. Reuters is reporting that Harbinger Capital Partners, which is funding LightSquared, has let some employees go as it attempts to right-size the company. The Harbinger fund now is valued at about $7 billion, a steep drop from the $26 billion it once counted.” The finding may shed light on why Lightsquared sought fast-track approval over winter holidays.
24+3 GPS Configuration
The U.S. Air Force 50th Space Wing announced completion of phase one of the two-phase GPS constellation expansion called Expandable 24, also known informally as 24+3, to increase global coverage and provide users with more robust satellite availability.
Phase one concluded when the last of three satellites that began repositioning maneuvers in January, 2010, completed its journey on January 18. Phase two, a repositioning of three more satellites, started in August 2010 and is expected to end in June of this year. At that time, the GPS constellation will attain the most optimal geometry in its 42-year history, maximizing GPS coverage for all users.
GPS IIF-2. The second satellite of the next generation, GPS IIF-2, received a launch date of June 23 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
EC: $1 Trillion in Europe Depends on GPS
The European Commission (EC) presented its mid-term review on the development of Galileo and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS). The report reiterates previous statements that Galileo will deliver initial services in 2014 — despite outside and unofficial speculation that the date may slip to 2015. The report also estimates that 6–7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of developed countries in Europe, an amount that equals €800 billion ($1 trillion U.S.) depends on satellite navigation; that is, on GPS, for the time being.
A December editorial in this magazine hypothesized that, on that basis, roughly $3 trillion of the global economy depends on GPS.
Costs Rising. An EC message to the European Parliament and European Council served notice that reaching full operational capability for Galileo will cost €1.9 billion more than the €3.4 billion already allocated. The EC foresees an average annual expense of €800 million to operate Galileo and EGNOS.
The administrative body for the European government issued one of its strongest statement yet as to the value of the satnav systems, however. “The ultimate objectives are not being called into question.” EC Vice President Antonio Tajani added, “We are satisfied with the progress made so far and committed to bringing this project to fruition.” The EC indicated its willingness to find alternative methods of financing the project.
Check-up. Meanwhile, the first in-orbit validation (IOV) satellite goes through readiness testing at the European Space Agency’s technical center in the Netherlands. Four identical Galileo IOV satellites are in preparation, and the first to be completed has been selected for qualification testing, as the Protoflight Model (PFM). Satellite payloads were designed, developed, and assembled by EADS Astrium in Portsmouth, UK, with the overall satellite designed and developed by Astrium in Ottobrunn, Germany, and assembled by Thales Alenia Space in Rome, Italy.
The PFM will endure simulated launch vibrations on an electrodynamic shaker, followed by sudden shocks simulating those during separation from the launch vehicle. Finally, it will take an acoustic battering matching the launcher’s sound pressure and frequency. The Galileo IOV satellites will be launched two at a time; a dispenser will hold them together within the launcher fairing and eventually release them in orbit. Pyrotechnic devices will shoot them safely away from the dispenser and each other.
Once ESTEC testing is complete in February, the PFM will be reunited with the rest of the IOV quartet in Italy for a follow-up round of thermal vacuum testing, to prove that they can withstand the temperature extremes of space. Finally, the satellites will travel to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana in South America, to be launched on Russian Soyuz rockets.
Pictured: Galileo protoflight model runs through its test paces at ESA.
Michibiki Produces 3-Centimeter Accuracy
According to a report in the Japanese business daily Nikkei, researchers in Japan conducted a test that yielded continuous 3-centimeter positioning accuracy for a car driving at 20 kilometers (approximately 12 miles) per hour, using a conventional GPS receiver equipped to receive corrections from the new QZSS satellite Michibiki. The authors imply that, unaided, the same equipment would have produced accuracy in the range of about 10 meters.
The report also states that the Japan Aerospace Exporation Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi, who have partnered to develop and launch the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), have conducted further tests shown that the augmentation system maintains its accuracy with cars driving up to 80 kilometers (48 miles) per hour.
QZSS’s current Michibiki satellite can cover Japan for eight hours a day; two additional satellites, planned for the future, will join it to provide continuous coverage and GPS corrections over mainland Japan and parts of Australia.
As a commenter from the United States pointed out, “There’s nothing new about 3-centimeter GPS accuracy. The surveying, construction, and agriculture industries have been using 2–5 centimeter level real-time kinematic GPS technology for well over a decade. Post-processing can get GPS accuracy down to the millimeter level and measure tectonic plate movements. By the way, Michibiki (aka QZSS) does not work without GPS. The United States helped Japan build QZSS.”
Nonetheless, if the tests used a conventional, consumer-grade GPS receiver, the results are indeed impressive. The availability that a full QZSS constellation will bring — the explicit goal of the project — in Japan’s skyscraper-dominated urban landscape should enable many heretofore impractical or impossible projects in car navigation, construction, tracking and monitoring, and location-based services.
Shelton Space Commander
Gen. William L. Shelton assumed command of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) on January 5. Shelton replaces Gen. C. Robert Kehler, who will take over at the U.S. Strategic Command.
Shelton has served in various assignments, including research and development testing, and space operations. As commander of AFSPC, he is responsible for organizing, equipping, training, and maintaining mission-ready space and cyberspace forces and capabilities for North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Strategic Command, and other combatant commands around the world. Shelton also oversees Air Force network operations; manages a global network of satellite command and control, communications, missile warning and space launch facilities; and is responsible for space system development and acquisition. AFSPC is comprised of more than 46,000 professionals, assigned to 88 locations worldwide and deployed to an additional 35 global sites.
Des Dorides for European GNSS Supervisory Agency
Carlo des Dorides of Italy will head the European GNSS Agency, formerly known as the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA). The Czech Republic’s Transport Ministry joined the European Commission (EC) in making the announcement. The GSA will gradually move its headquarters to Prague over the next two years.
“The election of the Italian candidate is unambiguously good news for both the Czech Republic and Galileo itself,” said Karel Dobes, the Czech government envoy for the Galileo system. “His idea of the future shape of the agency rests in a stronger and greater agenda than nowadays, which would provide greater opportunity for our firms to get lucrative orders. It is a business with the highest value added, thanks to which local firms and the whole Czech Republic may get billions of crowns in the future.”
Des Dorides was profiled by GPS World magazine as one of the 50 Leaders to Watch in GNSS in 2006. At that time he was head of the Concession Division of the Galileo Joint Undertaking, the GSA’s predecessor.
GLONASS Goes for Ten-Year Plan
The GLONASS plan for 2011–2020 is ready and now undergoing the final stages of approval, Sergey Revnivykh, Deputy Director General of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building of the Federal Space Agency, told a Russian business newspaper.
“In March–April, the program will be presented to the government. I can say that the amount [of funding] is sufficient to meet the prospective demands of consumers and ensure parity with other navigation systems. During the program period, 2012-2020, GLONASS, in [terms of its] parameters will not yield to the planned development of the GPS and Galileo systems.”
According to Revnivykh, by 2019 the GLONASS constellation will consist entirely of new-generation GLONASS-K satellites. In addition to existing FDMA signals, they will transmit CDMA signals in the format of CDMA (the same format as GPS and Galileo) and their service lifetime will increase to 10 years. Flight testing of a GLONASS-K prototype, originally scheduled for December 27, was postponed to a later date, to be determined in early February.
Two prominent executives associated with GLONASS were dismissed, and the program came under increased scrutiny after a launch disaster drowned three new satelites in the Pacific Ocean.