GPS Tracking — Is The Sky Really Falling?

I’ve been meaning to post on this current issue for a few days now.  I came across this excellent summary from my blogging colleague John Ewing, the Aviation Mentor, so I might as well point it out to you and avoid covering a lot of the ground that John has already written informatively and sensibly on.

Constellation GPS I particularly like John’s blog as he is one of a select few who actually writes about some of the real-world uses of GPS rather than the toy aspects so many focus on.  GPS is so much more than a dashboard car navigator or a pocket caching device, and it’s hard to explain things so that the average person gets the picture.

John is a professional pilot and Gold Seal flight instructor and he specializes in modern aircraft “glass dashes” which typically include integrated GPS systems.  Usually worth a read even if you don’t have wings.

The issue at hand is that the US General Accounting Office (GAO) has recently released a report Global Positioning System: Significant Challenges in Sustaining and Upgrading Widely Used Capabilities that is pretty critical of the USAF (the folks who actual build and run the GPS for the world) and in particular their efforts in getting the IIF (Block I Follow-on) birds built, tested and launched.

As a former USAF employee, directly involved with the GPS program since the days there was only one satellite on orbit, I’m a bit troubled too.  I’m disappointed by two things, two issues that are in some ways diametrically opposed to each other.

First I have been troubled for years by the way senior levels of US government have treated the NAVSTAR program.  I am a firm believer that my former USAF colleagues can accomplish most any reasonable task, but the mission of the USAF is to fly and fight.  The GPS is a national, nay, world public utility, and it’s contrary to logic and good leadership practices to just tell the USAF, “Okay general, while you are at it, promoting political change in SW Asia, providing the only space object catalog orbital control utility for the world and keeping those 50 year old KC-135 tankers in the air, take care of this little GPS project too.” 

The GPS, like the Internet, is another US military project that has expanded beyond all rational expectations and is being left to run as best it can.  Where is the higher level national interest and the world interest in these now essential international systems.  The European Union over the past few years have shown true “raised middle finger” leadership by wasting billions of Euros on their competitive and ill-advised Galileo program, essential just so they can be ‘different’.  What is needed her is cooperative leadership, not national pride and flag waving.  This deserves attention at much higher levels than the GAO.

As an aside I get a bit of a chuckle out of John’s concerns about the age of the current GPS constellation … “That means about a third of the GPS satellites are between 12 and 19 years old; a sobering thought” … valid concern, but how much more sobering to consider the age of the existing USAF aircraft and missile combat forces .. the GPS turns out to be one of the youngest and most technology ‘fresh’ systems out there.

The second issue that concerns me that the GAO report draws attention to at the intellectual level is faulty expectations.  The GPS today is exceeding expectations in virtually all aspects.  The life of the satellites has been prolonged far beyond the dreams of the original designers … to a large degree by the ingenuity and dedication of the folks in the 2 SOPS out there on the barren eastern plains of Colorado.  As an example, technicians in the 2 SOPS developed a technique years ago to ‘recondition’ batteries aboard the satellites remotely … one significant factor in the record levels of longevity. 

Also, since the first Gulf war, the accuracy of the navigation solution in the areas of combat has been greatly enhanced by ‘touching’ each bird (making more frequent ground to space contacts to enhance clock accuracy) bringing the overall accuracy in the area of interest up to better than 5 times the system specified figure.  A side effect from this work has been a sort of artificial world-wide increase in observed performance, leading to greater and greater expectations. 

USAF 2 SOPS logo How would anyone actually codify these efforts much less write them into a contract to operate the system?  My fear is, at some date that may be closer than we think, the Air Force is going to be forced to cut back on this labor-intensive ‘hand tuning’ and the system overall will revert to a level of performance far closer to its design document specifications.  The USAF will still be doing a highly creditable job … they always do .. but there may be a lot of customers who have grown used to getting a lot of extra performance for free that may become quite disappointed.

Here’s a great resource that shows a lot of data about the age of the GPS fleet.  Some areas for concern?  Indeed, but fear not, I think the system will stay healthy through the foreseeable future … there are a lot of my former colleagues, Civil Service, officer, enlisted and contractor personnel who are well aware of how critical the GPS is, even though it is actually so far outside their “job description”.  Hat’s off, guys, sometimes I wish I was still there.

Marine GPS

For boaters and other people who navigate some water areas, the Marine GPS systems have been the most helpful tool nowadays. Marine GPS navigation is useful in many different purposes, especially for people who need to locate directions and right positioning of a certain location when boating or fishing.

For boaters and other people who navigate some water areas, the Marine GPS systems have been the most helpful tool nowadays. Marine GPS navigation is useful in many different purposes, especially for people who need to locate directions and right positioning of a certain location when boating or fishing.

Marine GPS-History:

While it wasnt that long ago that boaters or mariners consulted star charts and latitude/longitude numbers to figure out their way back to land, Marine GPS navigation changed the need for the inaccurate tracking system that some could not figure out. GPS or global positioning systems came into vogue after the launch of satellites that could send a signal of latitude and longitude locations to figure exactly where anything was back on Earth. This principal has been used in fishing sonars and marine GPS systems, that use anywhere from 12 to 24 satellites to figure out positioning.

Why Using Marine GPS Navigation Systems?

The Marine GPS has been useful for every individual as they can easily navigate the place where they are heading whether they are driving, flying, boating, or just walking. More than that, GPS is used for safety purposes, especially during stormy seasons or when you got lost somewhere and you need to locate directions or alternate routes. The marine GPS devices can receive signals of tides and storms that might harm the boat or marine vessel.

Marine GPS-Future

The maritime technology and the boating and fishing industries have benefited a lot from the marine GPS systems. The devices are easy to use and carry wherever you want to and use it for whatever reason you want to. There are some marine GPS that can do a lot of functions for your different needs and lots of the available devices can store as much destinations as needed in its memory. Manufacturers are still developing new improvements to suffice the needs of every one regarding the right global positioning.

Marine GPS-Choosing and Buying One

There are many things to consider when choosing the right Marine GPS device. You should determine the reason why you would need one. Research for it carefully and check all the other functions available in the device which can be helpful for you in other ways aside from marine navigation. Consider also the necessary accessories and add-ons that you might need when you use the Marine GPS. There are affordable devices that you can buy for simple fishing or navigation purposes, but if you are planning for a more extensive navigation, choose the expensive one with more functionality.

For all water navigation, the Marine GPS navigation systems have met the requirements in providing essential functions. Now that a device is easy to access and the GPS feature is available in almost every cell phones and laptops, there is no need for you to worry of directions and safety while on sail.

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