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back to article Worldwide GPS may die in 2010, say US gov

The global positioning system (GPS) operated by the US government could fail as early as next year. According to a report (PDF) by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the independent and nonpartisan agency charged with keeping track of government efficiency (or lack thereof), "It is uncertain whether the Air Force …

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reports are greatly exaggerated

> In other words, not only will your iPhone not know where it is, but neither will your

> geotagging camera accurately insert location info into your photos' metadata, nor

> your car's navigation system help you find your way out of the morass of freeways

> that is Los Angeles.

Bullshit.

What they're worried about is that they might not be able to keep a complete set of 24 satellites going, in order to enable most places to always have at least eight visible. But you only actually need to have four satellites visible to get a 3D position with plenty of accuracy for uses such as navigation in a car.

Their spec says they'd like to have 24 going, but the deterioration of the service is gradual, and even half that number would work fine for almost any civilian use other than high precision surveying.

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not a chance

Sorry, I call shits on this one. There is no way that the various branches of the US military will be left without a functioning GPS system considering virtually everything needs it at some point. And if one satellite does fail, why not replace it like for like?

This is simply political maneuvering from an interested body.

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Happy

Silly Single Constellation Gear

That's what you get for cutting corners in your consumer gear and not using dual constellation receivers.

This type of news is helping us improve margins though, selling the slightly more expensive GPS + GLONASS receivers. The next time you buy something with GPS: ask why it doesn't support GLONASS as well.

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Anybody wonder?

Darpa doesn't think they'll make it either.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/05/18/darpa_gps_backup_plan/

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Best I not throw my road atlas out then

You forgot to mention shipping - everything water born now navigates by GPS. Well, maybe not kite surfers. Since most crews rely totally on automated systems to keep them clear of rocky and shallow bits, expect quite a few ships on beaches. It'll be just like whale strandings, but with less whales.

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Bacon and Eggs

I wouldn't cancel that geo-tagged camping trip just yet.

you can be pretty sure that some of the more committed stakeholders will make sure enough satellites are launched. At all costs is probably acceptable when compared to the risk of aerospace hardware landing in the wrong locations.

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Most important

Bugger the cute geotagging apps... those are trivial.

GPS is used as the timing source for numerous applications including cell towers etc.

No GPS means no cell phone calls.

Sure, you could in theory retrofit every single cell site with a v v v accurate clock, but that's not going to be viable.

Some nice saber rattling by the Air Force to get funded for more GPS satellites.

Get your twittering in now folks!

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Black Helicopters

Sweet

I cant wait i cant wait i cant wait!!!!!

Now those idiots who drive into lakes will have to blame their stupidity on something else YAY!!!!!

Anyway not like I care. Dont use GPS. Im a guy. I either try to read the map and get lost, get lost and refuse to ask for directions, or just scry my way home (ok seriously I know how to read a map, and ask for directions. Fuck GPS)

Yep I cant wait.

/BH because its the closest thing I can find that looks like something falling from the sky.

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31 of 24 still going.

There's 31 functioning satellites out there according to a Wikipedia article. Plus 2 more spares just sitting and waiting to replace any failed ones.

I think we've got a bit more time before people drive into lakes unguided.

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Feh, GPS: False Security for the Navigationally Challenged

I hated the PLGR they issued in the Army...half the time the damned thing would lock up if there was a tree within 50 feet.

'Direction: North (12.3°)'

<Turn around, walk 10 feet.>

'Direction: North (11.2°)'

<Turn left, walk 30 feet> '

Direction: North (15.7°)'

<Curse, turn off PLGR, open compass, shoot azimuth>.

I believe there may still be a lightly-used PLGR somewhere in the Mojave desert courtesy of Top winging it out the window after it locked up, again. Oops, FIELD LOSS!

Works great on the open sea, in the open desert, or at 10,000ft, but damned if it works in triple canopy jungle. Hopefully they've improved them since I got out.

The best was some REMF who wrote into the Stars&Stripes (upon her third time failing PLDC) "It's stupid to still require Land Navigation with a compass. We have PLGRs now, we don't need compasses anymore!" Uh-huh. I'll take a 1:50,000 and my "crank the bezel 2 clicks CCW 'cause it's a little wonky" compass any day.

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Try using a map/chart

As Mr Page would no doubt tell you, nobody got any sort of commerical or military shipping ticket without learning to navigate the hard way (dead reckoning, compass bearings, stars, radar).

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@James O'Brien

And you're still an idiot if you rely on a single source of nav data, be it map or GPS satellite.

Years of getting lost has taught me to not go somewhere unfamiliar without at least two and hopefully three nav aids, like written directions, a sketch, a Google printout, a commercial map, and maybe GPS unit.

I use my Nokia N800 with Google Maps downloaded using Maemo Mapper, and a Holux m241 Bluetooth GPS. Google hasn't yet stomped on Maemo Mapper like they did Viking.

It's not the satellite system that's to blame, it's the extremely shitty digital maps from the likes of such moronic retards as Garmin, who appear totally incapable of providing maps for my area less than 14 years out of date, and that's being generous. They've also never noticed that the two major highways through the center of Orlando actually connect, so they end up sending you on a goose chase through downtown. This is 18 years after the interchange was built. EIGHTEEN YEARS, PEOPLE!

East Orlando might as well have "here there be dragons" scribbled on it as far as Garmin is concerned. The entire neighborhoods of Waterford Lakes and Avalon Park are almost totally missing, and they've been here nearly 20 years. WHAT THE FUCK?!

If they're this screwed up with places I know about, how much should I trust them in places I don't know? Garmin's right up there with Palm and General Motors on the list of people I'll never buy from again.

I've always been rather impressed that Google Maps has been the only thing to be consistently correct, and I've only found a half-dozen very minor errors total.

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Where's Lewis?

"The report cites the failure of the US Air Force to successfully complete the current GPS IIF satellite program, which has cost $870m (£550m) more than originally estimated and is now three years behind schedule."

Let the man know that even the yanks perform monumental fuck-ups with their acquisitions. MOD had to get inspiration from somewhere. Perhaps the USAF out-sourced to the MOD?

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Anonymous Coward

Only bad for city-dwellers

There should be most satellites most of the time to get your position correctly, as Bruce Hoult remarks in the first comment - but: In an urban landscape, tall buildings can easily block your signal.

Meaning the remaining satellites will work most of the time perfectly - until you enter New York and need a bunch of satellites in a very constrained field of view - then you may feel the lack of extra satellites.

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Hard to believe...

Seems hard to believe that GPS could actually fail, since there are so damned many applications which sort of assumed that GPS sats are a given entity for the rest of time. People have mentioned a few unobvious applications, like accurate timing, but I imagine that there are quite a few more out there. I know that GPS has been my answer to a number of questions people asked me, most of which had nothing to do with position finding or timing. And hell, even low orbits use GPS for navigation. I know all of my personal computers sync to one of my GPS units every now and then, just to keep them honest.

It is always handy to be able to do some navigation with something that's definitely going to exist in the near future - Earth's magnetic field, for instance. Or just a halfway decent sense of direction. And the best way to navigate in LA is to pick a freeway that goes all the way through that mess of a city and don't look back. If you're a non-local you should be keeping your eyes on the car you're about to rear end, the one that's about to rear end you, and the ones trying to get between those two and yourself, not punching in addresses and watching directions on a GPS.

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@Charles Manning - Cell phones

CDMA2000 family cell phone systems will stop working. Not sure about UMTS, the 3G standard used in Europe etc; anyone know? (I'm guessing that'll stop too considering the similarity)

Good old GSM, which is found quite extensively worldwide, even the US, will be juuuuuust fine! Truly GSM is the work of geniuses.

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Coat

A note on cell towers & time signals

GPS fixes need at least 4 sats in sight of the receiver to do a position fix. However for the time signal you only need 1. The cell tower would not be able to tell where it was. Clearly a problem should aliens abduct a whole cell tower package and dump it somewhere afterwards.

Otherwise.

Mine will be the GPS For Dummies in the side

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@Gene Cash

Seems you're the idiot if you aren't confident enough to be able to fall back on a good old fashioned map and compass. Heaven forbid your toys should fail you.

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And..

Galileo won't be up in time either. Hopefully COMPASS might. Anyway, the way you get around this is use a GNSS receiver (GPS+GLONASS+Galileo+COMPASS).

And remember- GPS IS NOT SATNAV. Satnav uses GPS but so do many other applications.

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@Gene Cash

In my experience, navigating around orlando is hit and miss anyway, with tourists weaving erratically and suddenly diving off the various freeways and toll roads, ignoring stop signs, waiting at unmanned toll booths because they havent got any change (and because archaic "cash" is still king in the USA). U-turning across 8 lanes of highway traffic because the exit sign is placed exactly on the exit and not a couple of hundred yards before it like any sensible country, occasionally driving on the proper side of the road before suddenly swerving onto the funny side of the road (which was assigned that way specifically to be the opposite of the proper way).

Well that's what i do anyway......

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Time for a Talking Heads song...........

We're on a road to nowhere.

Ha to all those short cutting ass holes who drive 44 tonne artics up my garden path using Satnav !

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Galileo

this is why europe has its alternative http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_positioning_system#GPS_and_Galileo

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Happy

bring it on...

Then the gov can't introduce PAYG road charging hahahaha

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Anonymous Coward

Sure is manly around here

A REAL MAN FINDS OUT WHERE HE IS THROUGH FORCE OF WILL ALONE.

No, seriously, that's what all you "Everyone who uses GPS for anything ever is an idiot" people sound like.

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Ash
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GPS as a navigational AID

GPS is NOT navigation. There's nothing wrong with an up to date road atlas / A to Z.

I teach 16 year olds to navigate from OS maps for D of Es' Award. They stop when they don't know where they are, find out where they are, and navigate away.

If they can navigate featureless peat bogs without GPS, the world can find Telford without it too.

(Not considering other applications other than consumer navigation here, folks.)

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re: Maps & Charts

Ahh, fond memories. Bought an old yacht in Tanzania years ago and a shiny new hand GPS. Set out with my vict^H^H^Hcrrew only to find the engine broke, there was no way in hell I could get a signal and none of the instruments worked except the steering compass. Then that fell off and landed on my foot.

Ended up sailing 250 miles through reefs using a hand compass and an improvised lead line. My crew left shortly after.

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Understanding fail

"This is simply political maneuvering from an interested body"

This is not correct. The GAO doesn't have any interest in GPS failing or succeeding. It's not a partisan office and there's no advantage for them to say something is knacked or mismanaged when it's not.

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Unhappy

RE: Only bad for city dwellers

AC wrote: "...the remaining satellites will work most of the time perfectly - until you enter New York and need a bunch of satellites in a very constrained field of view - then you may feel the lack of extra satellites."

You mean the exact sort of place where:

- maps are easily available (maybe even on your phone?)

- there are likely to be street signs

- you can ask for directions

I don't have any devices that use GPS so maybe that's why I am one of the few who can still get from A to B without one. (In ten years maybe that will be an impressive party trick or something!)

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Heart

Oh well...

....we can always flog them access the superior Galileo systems when they go fully live. You know the one the US didn't want launched.

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Everyone lives a bad news story

But on the other hand, the GPS system may not die next year. However if you used that topic for a story, no-one would read it. Imagine the headline: "GPS. Still working, no problems expected" Who would waste their time reading a story like that?

It's only when our dumb, fat and happy existence is threatened, or our over-consuming and technologically dependent lifestyles come under a shadow that we perk up and take notice. Whether it's oil, bird-flu, climate change, swine flu, economic meltdown, a slightly upset tummy, repressive surveillance, inflation, deflation, rocketing house prices, slumping house prices, governmental corruption, extremism, foreign wars, domestic violence, nothing on TV, traffic congestion or eurovision - we love reading about misfortune: especially someone else's.

I can't help but wonder if the secret to a happy and contented life is to eschew newspapers and TV news and just stick to watching Big Brother and Reality TV - maybe letting your brain rot and have it dribble out of your ears isn't such a high price after all?

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contracts

Alternatively, it could be a scare tactic cooked up by the lobbyists in order to ensure that certain overspending irregularities in the GPS upgrade program are ignored in favour of just getting it up there. "Oh woe is us, we need another billion to release a product we actually finished 2 years ago".

They should threaten to throw the bastards in jail if they don't fulfil their contracts, rather than rewarding them for being criminals.

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GPS?

Is this that new fangled thing I've heard about where the sky-gods shout directions at you through a unit in your horseless carriage? Sounds like witchcraft and wizadry to me, it'll never take off.

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Would that mean the end to war?

Given that GPS is primarily (some might say "only") a military system, designed to accurately rain down death and destruction on wherever their faulty intelligence tells them to. If the GPS system was allowed to fail, does this mean that the americans aren't planning any more foreign wars for the near future.

If so, then maybe the entertainment value of not having clueless drivers slavishly following a robotic voice up a countryside dead-end is a worthwhile sacrifice for universal peace?

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Joke

Thats a good way to make some money...

Maybe its time to buy shares in A to Z books. :)

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Alert

Feeling left out

Thought I'd pitch in with my comments seeing as most people already have done similar:

<inane shite>GPS, ah yes I'm a bloke I can navigate without the need for GPS, all the rest of you GPS users are losers and... blah blah blah blah.</inane shite>

I think the more important feature as someone mentioned earlier is the timing system in GPS, there is no way on earth they will let it fail, too much infrastructure and delivery mechanisms in the military and commercial sectors rely on it.

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Joke

Wonder why...

..I can find the pub without GPS. It's 50 yards away.

'course, I wonder why I can't find my apartment afterwards without it...

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@Daniel Wilkie

Excellent!!

<hearty chuckle>

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Joke

@ Ash

"If they can navigate featureless peat bogs without GPS, the world can find Telford without it too."

If they can tell the difference between Telford and a Featureless Peat bog, now that would be impressive :-)

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Pirate

Never underestimate...

... the lengths the Air Force will go to to screw with the Army.

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Unhappy

Project staff churn

US staff churn is the bane of my life.

I spend 6 months getting them trained up on using units properly, so they can ask sensible questions and configure their end systems... and they all get moved onto other projects, and I have to start again from scratch with another Jar head!

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Coat

Chicken Licken says

The Skynet is falling! The Skynet is falling!

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Wow, lots of Luddites!

While I admit that those in the Military should be able to use a map and compass and that if you're driving somewhere you ought to be able to use the A to Z or a road atlas -- those shouting "USING GPS IS STUPID I CAN USE A MAP" are either genuinely gifted map readers/navigators or missing the point.

GPS controlled Ships are a new invention used to increase the number of ship and decrease the number of crew needed -- of course every ship could have a navigator with a sextant and a chronograph but that would mean ships would take longer to navigate and the lack of precision may mean longer time between ports.

Yes, you can count your steps in a combat situation and take bearings -- but if you have GPS that works and your enemy doesn't it could certainly work to your advantage (especially if coupled with very good/satellite mapping).

Yes, most missiles use terrain matching and inertial sensors to navigate as well as GPS -- but DARPA are struggling to make them work without GPS.

Yes, if I get lost in down town LA I could consult the map (if I have one) and read road signs (if they haven't been ripped out or turned around) or I could ask those nice men with red bandannas for directions.

I also seem to recall that flight times between the UK and US have been cut due to improved routes that are largely down to accurate GPS?

In short: Navigation without GPs is possible -- but is solves problems that a map and compass can't and it enables things that can't be done without it. As someone has said above, saying people should be able to get by without it is about the same as saying "ONLY PANSIES USE GPS -- REAL MEN DON'T NEED NO STINKING GPS".

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"@" is not a title apparently?

"I know all of my personal computers sync to one of my GPS units every now and then, just to keep them honest."

I assume you're accounting for the leap seconds introduced since the start of GPS time - they are not applied to GPS time, only earthbound time uses them...

And I want GPS to continue - It's nice being able to log my bike rides accurately... Fortunately for me I imagine I will be able to for a good long while, there are plenty of sats, and I'm sure sufficient will be replaced...

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Whoa, cool!

Am I correct assuming this will inhibit the government's ability to track me? That certainly can't be a bad thing.

As far as all those worried drivers out there...quit bitching and get a friggin' _map_.

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A cultural problem?

It seems that there is something almost cultural that prevents Anglo-Saxon nations from being any better than crap at maintenance and incremental upgrade operations. GPS is just the latest in a very long list of technological triumphs that once complete, are then allowed to decay, sometimes to the point of complete collapse.

There is one big organisation that I can think of that stands head and shoulders above all others in elevating system maintenance and optimization to an art form. No, it's not IBM (though IBM deserves a mention). It's Swiss Railways. Only half in jest, I suggest that the USA enters negotiations with a view to sub-contracting all future maintenance and upgrading of the GPS system to these fine folk.

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Jon

@John Smiths note on cell towers & time signals

For truely accurate time you will need to know your position (and i'm not talking about time zones). To work out the EXACT time where you are you must work out how long it took the signal to reach you. You do that by knowing exactly where you are. Yes this could be stored once when the tower is created, but to do this acuratly enough you would probably need to use a GPS based method to site the mast anyway

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Black Helicopters

Surveillance

"Am I correct assuming this will inhibit the government's ability to track me? That certainly can't be a bad thing."

No the government will still have their spy sats for that sort of thing ;)

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Flame

Just because it is a critical system...

...does not mean it cannot fail.

It will not stop overnight in 2010. If the coverage started dropping to a level that affected military operations, then a satellite would be in orbit in 24 hours.

However, the US military do not give a monkey's fart about supporting critical civilian infrastructure.

And in the long run, it will crash and burn, just like the rest of IT.

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2009/05/economics-of-decline.html

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Paris Hilton

@Andy ORourke

"If they can tell the difference between Telford and a Featureless Peat bog, now that would be impressive :-)"

Telford's in Shropshire while the featureless peat-bog-horror is loads-of-miles away in Cambridgeshire so it's unlikely to be a problem.

Paris because Peterborough's not in France either...

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Tom
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The lengths Micsorsoft will go

to put TomTom out of business.....

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