Space: August 2, 2003

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Russia's answer to GPS, GLONASS, was at full strength (24 satellites) shortly after the Cold War ended (1995). But the end of the Cold War meant the end of the regular financing for GLONASS. By the end of 2002, only seven GLONASS birds were still operational. However, a series of launches in the past seven months has increased the number of active satellites to twelve, and this is expected to grow to 18 by the end of 2004 and the full 24 birds by 2005. The money is coming from a Russian government that does not want to be dependent on the American Department of Defense controlled GPS system. But the money is only there because of high oil prices. Most GLONASS receivers in use are actually combined GPS/GLONASS receivers. Russia will have to put billions of dollars into GLONASS over the next few years to get the system fully operational, and then spend even more money to maintain the satellite network. But so far no one has found a way to make a buck off a network of navigation satellites. There are plenty of ideas, but no one has yet turned any of those ideas into cash.

 


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