Just How Good is Tesla’s GPS Tracking?

Just How Good is Tesla’s GPS Tracking?

I’ve written about this subject many, many times before … example here: GPS Tracking Can’t Find Flight 477 — and Why

But I Don’t Think I Have Mentioned Tesla Yet

Tesla automobiles are really a techno-nerds delight.  There seems to be no end of the features packed into their sophisticated operating system. (Tesla OS)

And since the Tesla OS relies heavily on the GPS it’ no secret that one of the many appealing features if the fact the Tesla is almost “un-stealable”, and if the car ever does get stolen, it will be continuously tracked by Tesla computers and thus easily recoverable by law enforcement.

Maybe.

In real life, though, things mat be a little different:

Two Tesla Model S PJust How Good is Tesla's GPS Tracking?90Ds have been stolen in Europe recently and despite the vehicle’s always-on GPS tracking software, the pair have disappeared without a trace.

On June 11, a Model S was stolen in Dusseldorf, Germany with the thief managing to take off with the electric sedan despite not having a key. Then on August 2, another was stolen, this time in Essen and again without a key, leading to speculation that the thieves may have hacked into the cars.

Electrek says there is a possibility the thieves could have hacked into the Tesla accounts of the owners. From there, they could have unlocked and driven the vehicles through the available smartphone application.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be much of an issue because the GPS system of the Model S makes it incredibly easy to track as it is always displaying the vehicle’s location. Strangely however, no GPS signals have been found from either, leading some to believe that the GPS systems may have been jammed or the sim card removed. (my emphasis) (read the whole article here)

Blocking GPS

There are many different ways to block GPS signals from being received.  But in this case I doubt this was done.  Blocking GPS reception to a Tesla vehicle is going to disable or degrade many features of the OS, and it’s certainly going to make the car less interesting to drive.

It’s also going to make the car less valuable if the intention is to sell it on the black market.  I mean why buy such a highly sophisticated car with many of the features missing or degraded?

The possible answer?

Don’t Block GPS Reception, Block The Tracking

The Tesla OS relies on 3G and 4G  wireless (cell phone) services in order to send the car’s GPS location back to Tesla’s central monitor and control computers.

In order to use these wireless services, the car has a SIM card (Subscriber Information Module) just like every working cell phone is equipped with.  Without a SIM card there is no two-way communication over the wireless network … USA, Europe or anywhere else in the world.

So All The Thieves Need To Do Is Remove The SIM?

It certainly seems that way.  Like any common commercial GPS tracking system, getting the cars location data back to the owner or controlling agency depends upon the cellular wireless network.

Couldn’t Tesla design the onboard computer in the car to shut the car down if it wasn’t receiving communication from “Tesla Central”?

Yes they certainly could, but the effects might be very unpredictable and annoying, even dangerous to customers.

The Entire USA, Much Less The Entire World Is NOT Covered With 2G or 3G or 4G Signals.

If you plunked down $100,000 plus bucks for a Tesla and then started driving off to your favorite hunting cabin in northern Minnesota to perhaps bag a deer before winter sets in, would you expect your Tesla to keep operating?  Even though there’s no cell signal for miles.

Well I certainly would.  So, I think, would the vast majority of Tesla owners.  Do the idea of designing the car’s own interface to make it dependent upon a cell phone signal just doesn’t seem doable.

So what do you think?

Just How Good is Tesla’s GPS Tracking?

Immediate Danger Averted, But Fuzzy Frequency Thinking Abounds

Avweb Comes through with the best update I have seen on the GPS/LightSquared mess … Thanks, Guys:

LightSquared Update

GPS Tracking ROI

Recent tests have shown that LightSquared’s proposed grid of 40,000 wireless network ground stations could interfere with GPS signals, and now the FCC has granted LightSquared a two-week extension to file a report on its position. LightSquared’s report was originally due Wednesday, the same day the FCC granted the extension.

LightSquared spokesman Jim Carlisle said Tuesday that the company underestimated the number of tests that would be necessary to show the network should be allowed. In a letter to the FCC, Carlisle wrote that additional testing "was necessary to permit a proper evaluation of various mitigation options for addressing the GPS receiver overload issue." And that producing a report is really hard.

"Producing a final report is a massive undertaking," Carlisle wrote, citing the multitude of factors involved in the process. The FCC responded by granting the company a new deadline of July 1.

In response to the FCC’s decision, co-founder of the Coalition to Save our GPS and Vice President of Trimble Jim Kirkland described his understanding of the process, so far, saying, it’s "been a combination of really really bad ideas and slightly less bad ideas."

According to Kirkland, too much of the burden of proof has been placed on the companies that could be most affected by LightSquared’s network. Said Kirkland, "The FCC should let the private industry return to work and stop squandering resources to solve an unsolvable problem."

This is typical of a money-hungry hedge-fund investor driven company like LightSquared as opposed to a technically-driven company who might have come up with a better, less rapacious of the public’s spectrum.

It doesn’t even take a high school level understanding of the frequency spectrum and the power budget LightSquared is proposing to use to understand that it is impossible for their ill-conceived, duplicative frequency grab to co-exists with our essential public utility, the GPS.

Most indicative of their lack of familiarity with the water they are swimming in is their last-minute failire to dleiver their required report.

Their spokesman now say, “… it’s a massive undertaking …”.  Well, as my Training Instructor down at Lackland AFB, 45 years ago, TSgt Clarence D. Marshall would have been happy to tell Mr. Carlisle, “Well, aw no shit, troop”!

Mr Carlisle may be a very well educated man, indeed (I believe he’s a lawyer by degree), but his concept of how business is done with  the FCC seems pretty flawed, especially since he used to work for the FCC, approving claims against the public’s spectrum like LightSquared’s.  (Hmm, you don’t think they hired him from the FCC to get benefit of his insider knowledge, now do you?  No, I’m sure that wasn’t the case ….)

Anyway,they have two weeks to prepare the report on how they are going to make the square peg fit into the round hole … I for one will be anxiously awaiting the excuses that will be offered up come  July 1.

GPS Tracking Can’t Find Flight 477 — and Why

Few have escaped hearing the tragic story of how Air France flight 477 disappeared in to Atlantic a thousand miles or so east of Brazil on a flight to Paris.  The Brazilian military and other organizations are putting in near-heroic and not unfruitful efforts in find the remains of the passengers and plane, but as in all such tragedies their efforts seem to take too long and produce too little in the way of answers.

I’ve noticed in the past day or two a lot of activity in the general interest media regarding GPS and why GPS couldn’t just find flight 477 when it first went missing, why airline flights over the ocean aren’t routinely tracked by GPS, and today my BS detector went off when I noticed some (undoubtedly Beltway Bandit financed, in some hidden way) out and out US government propaganda using the death of the Air France passengers and crew to promote one of Washington’s most oversold and technically flawed schemes ever (friends, after you get done paying for this boondoggle, you’ll think $600 toilet seats are a bargain, believe me).  So I now expect this post will grow into several installments.  So be it, the longest journey begins with but a single step, as they say. Good example of media GPS tracking speculation here

Let’s work through some of the more common questions circulating today, working from the standpoint of most general interest to most esoteric.  This first article will certainly be of use to media types and fellow authors who want to find out a few of the basic things I virtually guarantee they currently don’t know about GPS and air commerce.

Why Can’t GPS Find Flight 477?

That one is the simplest to explain, but perhaps the most difficult for the non-techies out there to grasp.  GPS can’t find Flight 477 because GPS can’t find anything.  Yep, you read it here first, “Hey Joe, I just saw this nut on the Internet who says GPS can’t find anything.  What an idiot!”  Well nut job I may be, I’ll leave that to the shrinks.  But idiot I ain’t, at least regarding GPS.  In spite of the near universally held belief that the GPS (what most people say when the mean the NAVSTAR GPS, a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), operated by the USAF and commonly described as 24 satellites circling the globe) does not track, or find anything.  Each active satellite sends out a precision timing pulse and some other navigation-related technical information, and that is that.  The satellites don’t track anyone or anything, in fact the signal between the satellites and whomever might be using their signal is purposely made one way .. the GPS satellites can’t receive any data from ‘clients’ using their signals to navigate, so even the CIA or some other fictional more secret agency can’t ‘track’ a single thing through GPS … period.  Now you may think I am mincing words or splitting hairs here, but the truth is, unless people get this basic concept in their brain and de-emphasize the fiction about GPS they routine get from TV, the movies and even certain US government officials, there are a number of important follow-on concepts here that are going to remain misunderstood.  Lives and billions of dollars, actually, ride on this concept, and I see the problem getting a lot worse rather than showing signs of improvement.

OK, so if GPD can’t track anything, why is the title of this blog GPS Tracking?  Glad you asked that, it’s the first step in understanding what is really going on here versus the common misconceptions.  Follow me through on this, it is not really too difficult.

Step One:  The GPS satellites send out a receive only (broadcast) signal.

Step Two:  A receiver sense this signal and processes the data to solve an equation.  The result of that equation is the position of the receiver in space.  (Typically on. or close above, the surface of the earth)

Step Three: The solution to the position equation is converted into something human-usable.  A display of the user’s position on an electronic map.  In simple terms this is GPS navigation in a nutshell.  The map may be on the dashboard of your car, on the screen of your cell phone, on the monitor of your laptop, on a navigational display in the cockpit of an airplane, or you name it,  but one thing is always true … up until this point in our mini-course, only you, the user, knows where you are.  No one else is tracking you or has the capability to track you … period.  The act of fixing your position or navigating with the NAVSTAR system and a “GPS Receiver” is an independent, user discrete function.  The customer knows where he is, no one else does.

Step Four:  Sometimes just knowing where you are is all you need to know.  That’s why, in fact, the vast majority of GPS products on the market are deceive/navigate only devices. They don’t get down below Step Three, above.  But there are many cases where the user wants others to know where s/he is, wants to be tracked in other words.  This is most commonly what we mean when we say “GPS Tracking”, and this is the aspect of the overall GPS utility most variable, and most misunderstood.

Let’s go back to the GPS-driven navigational display in the aircraft instrument panel we used as an example above.  This seems like the most germane example since we started out talking about the loss of Flight 477.  Did Flight 477 have such a GPS-driven navigational display?

I don’t have access to the specific equipment list of Flight 477 so the answer to the question I posed above is. yes, no or maybe.  The majority of commercial airliners flying today do not have GPS navigation aboard.  This likely will change in the future … especially if the US government succeeds in promoting and ill-advised monstrosity they call Next Gen … which the referenced GPS capability article  shows they are apparently grinding their personal axe on the bones of flight 477’s victims.  Many smaller business and private aircraft do have GPS navigation receivers/display, but the important point to wind up this install of my series on is that it matters not if Air France had GPS navigation aboard or not, because no one was in a position to track them anyway.

"The technology’s there — we’ve had this stuff for 15 years and little’s happened," said Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based airline analyst. "My BlackBerry can be used to track me, so why can’t we do it with planes?"

Not quite, Mr. Boyd, you’re on the right track, believe me, but your “analysis” has a few holes in it.  In order to make a GPS Tracking system out of a “common GPS”, you need two important components we haven’t mentioned yet and which no one, including the Next gen spin-meisters has really considered.  I’ll return to those issues next installment, meanwhile just remember this key point:

GPS can’t find Flight 477 because “GPS’ does not track commercial airliners in general and over the oceans and polar regions in particular.  “Common GPS” can not do so, period, the mechanisms and physics aren’t there.  Commercial airlines could be tracked with varying degrees of effort and expense, and next installment we’ll consider some of the pros and cons and costs.

How Fast Is Fast Enough?

This is interesting coverage of an interesting topic.

 

Real Time GPS Tracking

here's the truth of the matter. There is no such thing. Anyone who uses this term is generally a salesman, and typically uniformed about technology.

You can, however use the term "Near-Real-Time" with some degree of accuracy.

That is what most suppliers really mean to say … they just sometimes shorten it to "Real Time" because it sounds better. I mean, why be accurate when you can sound good, right?

Typically They Are Talking About Updates

When a company tells you about "real time" or even near-real-time" tracking, they are usually referring to the rate at which their application updates with new locations, alarms and messages from vehicles being tracked.

GPS units on vehicles can be set to update very quickly. Typical times these days are well under one second for each new "GPS Fix".

But you can't use the information at that rate for several reason.

First, using almost any form of transmitting the data back to the user, the costs of the data transmissions would spiral out of sight.

Second, what on earth would the user DO with that much information? sway to much to store, analyze and keep track of.

After all there are 86,400 seconds each and every day … and if you had a modest size fleet of, say, 50 vehicles, do you really want to store and attempt to analyze 4,320,000 vehicle reports each and ever day? HardlRealtime GPS Vehicle Tracking a reality!

GPS Vehicle Tracking in realtime! This is ABC news coverage of the only true realtime tracking system on the market that does 5-second and 10-second updates!

 

Pick an Update Rate

So the typical solution is to pick an acceptable update rate and only report every so many minutes of vehicle use. This is the industry accepted solution, and it works well … unless, of course, the report that gets "dropped" because it doesn't come at the specific time of updating is the one you actually need.

Here's Some Scientific Thinking on GPS Update Rates:

Realtime GPS Vehicle Tracking a reality!

GPS Vehicle Tracking in realtime! This is ABC news coverage of the only true realtime tracking system on the market that does 5-second and 10-second updates!…

 

 

Garmin Sat Nav Global Positioning Systems

It is highly likely that you have glimpsed one of the many Garmin commercials that have been highly visible near the Holiday Season. A typical version of one commercial shows a man who has become lost while doing Christmas shopping. As he drives around in his car searching for the way home he sees a number of familiar Christmas characters hitchhiking along the same streets. The driver ends up giving rides to the assorted group of characters while an unseen background chorus sings that cute Garmin jingle. See what can be avoided when you have a Garmin Sat Nav; who knows what kinds of characters may be waiting for the next unsuspecting driver.

It is highly likely that you have glimpsed one of the many Garmin commercials that have been highly visible near the Holiday Season. A typical version of one commercial shows a man who has become lost while doing Christmas shopping. As he drives around in his car searching for the way home he sees a number of familiar Christmas characters hitchhiking along the same streets. The driver ends up giving rides to the assorted group of characters while an unseen background chorus sings that cute Garmin jingle. See what can be avoided when you have a Garmin Sat Nav; who knows what kinds of characters may be waiting for the next unsuspecting driver.

The point hits home for us though, and it is easy to see that Garmin Sat Nav devices are the most popular navigation devices on the market today. They come in many assortments and styles and can be a very practical and smart looking addition to your car. A Garmin Sat Nav device can be a boon when trying to find your way around the city or place you arent familiar with.

The history of Garmin Sat Nav started in 1989 with a handful of employees who thought vertical integration was very important. Vertical integration means they design, market, build their products themselves. By 2007, the workforce at Garmin topped over 7,000 and continues to grow to this day.

Why Garmin Sat Nav? Garmin has always kept the customer in mind when designing their Garmin Sat Nav devices. Garmin Sat Nav devices boast easy-to-use menus and practical features. The devices themselves look very attractive and can be mounted just about any where on your dashboard within easy reach.

Why is it unique to use Garmin range of GPS? The features of the Garmin Sat Nav devices make them unique. There are split screen views, traffic alerts, touch screen navigation and even models that offer lane changing suggestions. They even have text to speech options which tell you when to turn.

There is no easier way to get directions and driving information than by using your Garmin Sat Nav. With an electronic navigator in your car you can settle back and let the Garmin Sat Nav map the course to any location you have in mind. The text to speech application has quickly become one of the publics favorite features. A Garmin Sat Nav is portable, powerful and adaptable. They are now used by pilots, boat captains and hikers who want to be sure of finding their way through unfamiliar terrain.

Many people wonder what the future of Garmin Sat Nav devices may still hold. The models made for cars have already become top sellers but there are many other applications that can make use of these navigational aids. One of the areas that is just starting to make use of this type of software is the market involving mobile hand held phones and computers. The sales of cell phones and other personal hand held devices are booming and Garmin is already poised to make their mark in this area.

Garmin will certainly cut deeply into the cell phone GPS market thanks to the reliable and efficient technology it employs. Today Garmin navigation devices are the clear cut winner in the consumer market because of the superiority to other brands. When you need to know which way to go you can count on a Garmin Sat Nav to give you the right answer.

About the Author:

GPS laws — Updating Needed

Laws on GPS use need to be updated

WHEN Global Positioning Systems (GPS) first came on the scene, they were used mainly by local law enforcement and federal government agencies.

Now they’re available to businesses and parents who want to use them to track employees or children. General Motors uses GPS technology in the NorthStar system in many of its higher-end vehicles.

A GPS in a cell phone or in a car can bring peace of mind to parents who want to keep track of their small children while they work, or can monitor teenage drivers after they get out of high school. Also, it can be used by spouses who are suspicious of what their mates may be up to… Read Article Here:

Often the general news media hue and cry about GPS and privacy issues is so lopsided or ignorant I don’t even bother to read it or post about it.

But here’s an article from the Argus that short, to the point and with which I totally agree.  In general,

  • If you won a vehicle you can track it
  • If folks work for you, you can track them with their prior consent
  • If you’re a parent, you can track your child
  • If you carry a cell phone it is subject to tracking, GPS or not

Those four generalization however don’t begin to track the surface of GPS …. I should say  … tracking law.  I am at heart a person who believes that in many ways we already have too many damn laws.  But I can’t deny that in the case of rapidly expanding new technology we need new laws … or significant clarification of old ones.  Let’s take one example from my bullets above.  Parent tracking child.  If, by child, we mean a natural offspring under 18 years of age, although I am not a lawyer, I think you can safely say that you can track that person, with or without their consent, in any of the 50 states.  Whether or not you should track without consent is another story for another day (I think not), but I don’t think one of your own children could successfully bring suit against you for doing so.

What about a stepchild, though, as in the story the article references?  Wanna make a bet?  I sure don’t.  Although in many cases the law would consider your rights the same as a natural parent there are dozens or hundreds of other factors that might enter in.  What does the child’s natural parent think?  How old is the child?  on and on. 

Now let’s say you have some vehicles in your business.  You place tracking devices on them and use the information you gather to help you run your business.  So far I think you’re on safe ground anywhere.  But one day you find some egregious employee misconduct by an individual, you fire him, based on what you "see" him doing via the GPS records.  He files a wrongful termination suit.  Does he have a chance?  Again, something I wouldn’t make a bet on because the law is so silent on this matter it’s like a vacuum.

You give an employee a company-owned laptop.  You take care to insure that there is no GPS device attached to it because you specifically want to avoid the tracking issue.  Now the employee downloads a free software like Loki and sends his location back to the office unintentionally, proving he’s in Fenway watching the Sox when he swore he was going down to Providence that afternoon to see a client without fail.  Can you fire him based on knowing his location without his knowledge, even if he was the person who installed the technology? (I’ve written about this non-GPS location technology here).  Among other things it does this:

Location-Based Search and ‘Virtual GPS’

Loki pinpoints your exact physical location and then uses that location to make the web revolve around you wherever you are. With Loki you’ll always know where you are, make sure that others know where you are too, never get lost and always be able to find stuff nearby.

The law should tell us what we can’t do, and by default then we can do what the law doesn’t speak to us, but we can’t take proper advantage of GPS and wireless technology with today’s deafening silence.  GPS is in the forefront on this issue but there are other common tracking technologies, in particular cell phones (even those without GPS) and wireless IP tracking technology.

Don’t Buy GPS Tracking, Buy Slime Mold Instead.

Here’s a pretty interesting item that crossed my desk recently.  I has a lot of applicability to the world of GPS mapping, GPS tracking, Fleet or asset management and one of my most favorite subjects … which I can hardly ever find a good excuse to write about … business continuity planning … disaster preparedness.

Talented and dedicated engineers spent countless hours designing Japan’s rail system to be one of the world’s most efficient. Could have just asked a slime mold.

How slime mold growssciencenewsWhen presented with oat flakes arranged in the pattern of Japanese cities around Tokyo, brainless, single-celled slime molds construct networks of nutrient-channeling tubes that are strikingly similar to the layout of the Japanese rail system, researchers from Japan and England report Jan. 22 in Science. A new model based on the simple rules of the slime mold’s behavior may lead to the design of more efficient, adaptable networks, the team contends.

Every day, the rail network around Tokyo has to meet the demands of mass transport, ferrying millions of people between distant points quickly and reliably, notes study coauthor Mark Fricker of the University of Oxford. “In contrast, the slime mold has no central brain or indeed any awareness of the overall problem it is trying to solve, but manages to produce a structure with similar properties to the real rail network.”

The yellow slime mold Physarum polycephalum grows as a single cell that is big enough to be seen with the naked eye. When it encounters numerous food sources separated in space, the slime mold cell surrounds the food and creates tunnels to distribute the nutrients. In the experiment, Slime Mold Growth Tokyo railresearchers led by Toshiyuki Nakagaki, of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, placed oat flakes (a slime mold delicacy) in a pattern that mimicked the way cities are scattered around Tokyo, then set the slime mold loose.

Initially, the slime mold dispersed evenly around the oat flakes, exploring its new territory. But within hours, the slime mold began to refine its pattern, strengthening the tunnels between oat flakes while the other links gradually disappeared. After about a day, the slime mold had constructed a network of interconnected nutrient-ferrying tubes. Its design looked almost identical to that of the rail system surrounding Tokyo, with a larger number of strong, resilient tunnels connecting centrally located oats. “There is a remarkable degree of overlap between the two systems,” Fricker says.

Read More http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/01/slime-mold-grows-network-just-like-tokyo-rail-system/#ixzz0yuolh0C9

Save Our GPS Tracking — Get Writing, Friends

If you’re a friend of GPS, or even you GPS haters who find their way here, if you can ever perceive of a time GPS might find your lost child or help catch your wife’s rapist, or something equally as high in your self interest, you ought to think about joining in the campaign and preventing the commercial destruction of the tax-payer supported infrastructure YOU built and YOU pay for.

(You can find your Representative here:

U.S. House of Representatives:

and Senators easily here:

 U.S. Senate:  )

 

You should write some letters like this, and you should write them now!


Dear Congressman Tipton:

I am writing on behalf of myself, my Colorado family and my long-term GPS consulting practice to share my concerns about a recent government action that could seriously affect the millions of Americans who use GPS every day.

In January, the FCC authorized a satellite company called LightSquared to use their satellite frequencies to build a new ground-based wireless network.  Unfortunately, the FCC is allowing this new wireless network to be built despite the fact it uses almost the same frequencies as the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites.

GPS providers believe that this new wireless network will cause serious interference to GPS receivers across the country.  In addition this is my own personal and professional opinion.  I feel this is of significant concern to you as a Congressman from Colorado, as the GPS is a national, even global asset managed right off the plains of our great state.

Although the FCC has directed the company to conduct an interference study, we are very concerned that FCC’s plan for addressing interference to GPS is inadequate.  To expect the entity with a vast commercial stake in this potential GPS danger to be an impartial testing agency is ludicrous and dangerous, in my professional view.  At the very least, we must insist upon an independent, international organization for testing and certification of this proposed infringement on the GPS spectrum. 

Not only the USA, but our global allies may be adversely affected if the United Sates does not live up to our role as the manager of this critical resource.

As a provider of GPS consulting services, I am concerned that the FCC decision will harm my business and affect the millions of American consumers, businesses and government users who rely on GPS. 

There is also a potential for grave consequences to US intelligence and military services which can’t be mentioned here, and which LightSquared does not have the level of security clearance nor ‘need to know’ to even be aware of.  This is akin to allowing children to play with a loaded gun. 

While I am sure LightSquared are a concerned, honorable organization, they are playing with dangers they really do not understand, in the name of (possible) short-term financial gain, at the (possible) expense of our very national security.

I urge you to contact the FCC to let them know of the importance of protecting GPS from interference.

Thank you and please let me know if I can be of any further assistance in this matter.

Sincerely
David W. Starr


Save our GPS

 

 

 

 

You should also think seriously about joining or otherwise lending support to the coalition to Save Our GPS.:


There’s More To GPS Than Dashboard Toys

Updating the GPS satellite constellation takes next step
SPACEFLIGHT NOW
Posted: September 25, 2006

One year to the day after the Global Positioning System constellation began a modernization effort to improve the accuracy of the navigation network, the next step in that upgrade blasted into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida…. read a lot more here, great write up.

So when someone says GPS, what do you think of?  A little $89 toy from Cabella’s that helps you find last year’s fishing whole?  A colorful little mapping screen on your car’s dash with a mechanical voice screeching "turn Right Now" just after you passed the turn?  Or are you more like an intellectual acquaintance of mine who is so in love with his own education that he thinks low-life’s like Air Force enlisted troops don’t have much on the ball?

Well’s here’s what GPS is really all about:

Launching real satellites into space.  I say real because these aren’t tinker toys like NASA’s shuttle that breaks every time the moon changes phase and falls apart in mid-flight … I’m talking about birds that have been launched and launched and have had but one failure in 20 years.

The current satellites are built by Lockheed-Martin and they ride a Delta booster, as dependable as a Boeing 747, and co-incidentally, also built by Boeing.

In the white cone you see on top of the Delta in the photo is a Block 2R bird.  Military hardware is often built in "blocks", denoting major manufacturing improvements being made to the same basic airframe.  So the GPS birds are only in their second major rework, with the little R in the name standing for "Replacement"  I guess you could call this Block 2 and 1/2’s" if you wanted to. 

  If you read the article I’ve linked to you’ll see some of the praise that senior leadership has for the fellows and gals who "fly" these space machines out there on the barren plains east of Colorado Springs.

All the birds have lasted way past their design life, some an astounding amount of time.  The reasons I’m sure are many, the design is good, the workmanship in manufacturing has been great and there’s been  a little good luck too, but a heck of a lot of credit goes to these folks, many of them just ordinary "blue collar" kind of people like me who don’t just sit out there and watch dots fly past in the sky.  They fine tune each spacecraft continuously.  They have a program that continually restores the batteries which is one of the most critical reasons the birds last as long as they do.  And when you read in the news or in official specifications how the accuracy of the standard GPS navigation signal is 15 meters, don’t you believe for a minute these folks sit back and accept "working up to standards" as good enough.  When each active bird comes over the horizon for the South West Asia area, each and every bird has been updated to produce standard accuracies down to just a meter or two, day in, day your, twice a day, ti9mes 29 or more birds.

On Thanksgiving day when you’re bloated from turkey, on Christmas morning when your kids are opening presents, on Super Bowl Sunday when you’re stuffed with beer and chips, just remember the folks out on South Enoch Road making space systems look easy

Act Now To Save GPS As We Know It — Critical Information For All GPS users

I reported on this a few weeks back, along with a plea to contact your elected representatives on the issue.  I don’t know how many of you did … my Congressman and Senators apparently were too busy dismantling Medicare to take notice. 

I also joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS, something else I recommend you do … link is here.

Seems that the NBA has also joined, as should anyone else who cares about aviation, or even if an ambulance can reach you in an emergency.  In particular, I invite you to rad the attached factual report from Emergency Services and New Mexico State Police communication experts, detailing in simple and incontrovertible terms, that testing of just one of LightSquared’s proposed 40,000 transmitter sites.  It’s not nice stuff, folks.  here’s what the avweb.com business aviation news folks published recently

LightSquared GPS Interference Reported

Early field tests of the effects of LightSquared’s 4G signal on GPS-dependent devices showed some disruption of service when tested by first responders in New Mexico. In a letter to federal officials (PDF) last week, Bill Range, the program director for New Mexico’s 911 system, says the tests run by police and emergency medical services personnel from two counties "substantiate concerns that the LightSquared network will cause interference to GPS signals and jeopardize 911 and public safety nationwide." In the tests, first responders reported inaccuracies and failures with GPS equipment in proximity to the LightSquared towers that persisted even after the 4G signal was turned off. As we reported Monday, LightSquared began live tests from a transmitter in the Nevada desert near Boulder City.

(Have you flown through the test area during testing (midnight to 6 a.m.)? If so, have you noticed any effect on your GPS equipment? After telling the FAA, why not drop us a line at dave@satviz.com and let us and your fellow SatViz, GPS ROI Blog readers know what you experienced?)

Meanwhile, LightSquared has submitted a progress report to the FCC on the testing so far (PDF), and the technical work group overseeing the testing according to GPS World will host a webinar May 26 to discuss the highly technical report. Also, the National Business Aviation Association has announced that it has joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS. The coalition was formed in April in response to the LightSquared proposal, which will involve the construction of 40,000 transmission towers broadcasting broadband Internet signals in a frequency band adjacent to the band used by GPS satellite transmitters. The fear is that the much more powerful broadband signals will overwhelm the weak GPS signals…. Full AvWeb report

GPS Tracking at RiskHere’s what’s goping on here, folks, in your knowlegeable but non-PhD reporter’s opinion.  I base this on years of experience working with the GPS under the USAF (Air Force Space Command), as well as even more years watching private industry cast their eyes longingly on the portions of the frequency spectrum reserved for the US military.  Always a prime target for civilian targeting, since the DoD doesn’t have the powerful legal background and resources to fight all potential “frequency grab” issues in court.

I fully believe the folks at LightSquared think they know what they are doing and I do not ascribe any malice toward them.

Howvere, notice the word I used there, purposely “think”?

There are forces at play here that even LightSquared’s PhD’s do not fully comprehend.  We already make use of the GPS in ways that were not even written into the original ICD (Interface Control Document) which attempted to doc8ment the know uses and characteristics of the signal.

More uses and better ways to make use of existing applications come about every day … so long as the GPS spectrum remains unsullied by high power interference sources that were not there. not even envisioned, when the GPS was designed.

To put it into terms much simpler and more direct than you are going to hear at the May webinar, It took several hundred years, for example, to prove the link between smoking and lung cancer, heart disease and other physical ailments.   The methodology being used here is very much akin to letting a teen sit in a room and tasking him to smoke Lucky Strike after Lucky Strikes, while telling the press, “See no ill effects, we told you so.”

Well, when I read those reports from the New Mexico public safety agencies, I certainly heard the the beginning signs of a distinct ‘smoker’s cough”, didn’t you?

Talk to your legislators, and to your superiors if you work for the USAF, the FAA, the FCC or an other government agency.  This is a very dumb thing to do, and, side from potential profit for LightSquared, has little or no redeeming features for mankind.  Stop the madness, protect the GPS we already have come to depend upon, and expend the effort in the charade of testing on building an even better GPS … minus significant man-made sources of interference where none exists today.  It’s important.