The urgent requirement for an alternative PNT solution to space-based systems was demonstrated very clearly on April 2, 2014, when all 24 positioning satellites in Russia’s GLONASS constellation (the equivalent of the US GPS constellation) failed simultaneously at 2100 hours UTC.
This unprecedented event rendered the Russian system completely unusable to all GLONASS receivers worldwide.
The outage lasted for 11 hours before correct positioning signal broadcasts were restored. Although at the time Russian authorities did not release any information as to the cause of the outage, geospatial industry experts surmised that the most likely source of the simultaneous failure of 24 satellites was a major software error in GLONASS’ control center software program. The software error was confirmed several months later.
Astonishingly, the GLONASS constellation suffered another major problem two weeks later. On April 14, eight GLONASS satellites were simultaneously set unhealthy for about half an hour. In addition, one other satellite in the Russian fleet was out of commission undergoing maintenance. This would have left too few healthy satellites to compute GLONASS-only receiver positions in some geographical locations globally.
The two incidents, experienced by a major world superpower, prove that no system, however well managed or well-guarded, can ever be made truly failsafe. If the outage had occurred to the GPS constellation, there would have been serious, widespread disruptions globally. The GLONASS incidents also prove what Locata has been telling the geospatial industry for years – no country can afford to have multiple industry sectors operating critical infrastructures which rely on an important capability like GPS, without also having a viable back-up.
This is not just the opinion of Locata. Highly respected experts in the international geospatial industry such as the UK’s Professor David Last and US’ Dr Brad Parkinson, founding director of the US GPS program and often referred to as the “father of GPS”, concurred when they spoke at the 2014 European Navigation Conference in Rotterdam in April:
Prof. David Last:
“GPS is now widely seen as the sole necessary navigation solution. And we have seen the demise of many traditional and even more recent backup systems. In fact, virtually all other means of navigation have been replaced by GPS.”
GPS is in so many onboard systems, he said, that the people who run ships today aren’t even aware of what all can go wrong when GPS drops out.
“Satellites can fail,” said Last.
Dr. Brad Parkinson outlined a number of steps that he believes can and need to be taken in order to reduce the risk of catastrophic GNSS failure. Resilient PNT, he said, means not a single system; it means complementary but dissimilar systems.
Erik Theunissen, from the Netherlands Defence Academy, eliminated any remaining shred of hope during his conference presentation entitled ‘So you think you are safe’. “Having become so dependent on GNSS, can we now afford a loss of integrity?” he asked.
Also, the safety-of-life issues that can be caused by the jamming or spoofing of such weak signals from space-based systems are well known by all stakeholders within the global positioning industry, especially government agencies such as the US Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), the US Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA“).
The world now needs “something much better and more reliable than GPS.” It needs a “Plan B” alternative that delivers all of the functionality of GPS, whilst also satisfying the requirements of many modern applications that need accurate location-based services indoors, as well as out.
The navigation and timing functions of the global positioning systems are integrated into the core of almost every modern technology. Society has come to rely on these technologies as a foundation for global commerce and communication. Reliability of GPS is therefore not just important; it is essential across nearly all applications. Locata and others, such as the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation in Washington D.C., have tirelessly highlighted 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 simply cannot deliver.
Locata strongly believes that the recent outages of the GLONASS constellation compound the well-known vulnerabilities of space-based positioning systems and will accelerate further the take-up of Locata technology globally.
The above text includes excerpts provided by Inside GNSS Magazine (www.insidegnss.com), published by Gibbons Media & Research LLC.
Media Coverage of the GLONASS Outage
It’s time for a back-Up to GPS
GLONASS Gone . . . Then Back (GPS World April 2, 2014)
GLONASS Loses Control Again (GPS World April 16, 2014)
Locata Warns: Lessons to Be Learned from GLONASS Spasm (GPS World April 15, 2014)
CeBit 2012: Spatial@Gov Conference Slideshows