Space: More Competition for GPS

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July 10, 2006: India will spend $370 million to build and launch eight satellites to provide a regional GPS system. This will give people one more alternative, in addition to GPS, GLONASS (Russia) and Galileo (Europe). Next year, India will spend $80 million to equip a satellite with technology that will provide enhanced GPS service in India. This system. GAGAN (GPS aided geo augmentation navigation), will then be followed by India's own version of GPS. India is trying to get commercial firms for participate in the project, with both technology and money. Apparently, the project won't go forward if the private sector does not respond enthusiastically enough.
India not the only one building their own GPS. China is planning a similar regional system. 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 2003 increased the number of active satellites to twelve, and it is supposed to go to 18 by the end of 2007, and the full 24 birds a year or two after that. 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. Worse yet, 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.
A European consortium is going forward with it's own version of GPS, called Galileo. So far, only two satellites have been launched, although the original plan called for four to be up there by now, to provide a sufficient number of birds for a test system. If there are no problems with the test system, the full array of 27 satellites will be launched and operational some time in the next decade. The system will cost nearly $3 billion when completed, and the fifteen nations of the European Space Agency (ESA) have put in about a hundred million dollars already. The Europeans don't like being dependent on an American system, and don't believe the Russians will be able to keep their GLONASS system viable. If Galileo becomes operational, the European nations will pay for it, but anyone can use it. Dual signal (GPS and Galileo) receivers won't cost much more (maybe 20 percent more) than GPS receivers do. Having two separate sets of signals makes for more reliable and accurate receivers. Also, the way Galileo is being set up, it will provide improved reliability in higher latitudes and in built up areas. The ESA is trying to develop a way to get people to pay for additional Galileo services, but so far no one has come up with anything that seems likely to work.

 


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