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Obama's National Space Policy Authorizes Use of Foreign GNSS Services to Strengthen GPS

June 28, 2010
Inside GNSS, July/August 2010

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A new U.S. National Space Policy announced today (June 28, 2010) by the White House says that foreign GNSS services may be used “to augment and strengthen the resiliency of GPS.”

In a document that underlines the Obama administration’s intention to rely more on international cooperation in space-related activities and “energize competitive domestic industries to participate in global markets,” the new policy reaffirms recent efforts “to engage with foreign GNSS providers to encourage compatibility and interoperability, promote transparency in civil service provision, and enable market access for U.S. industry.”

In a measure of the prominence of GPS in the nation's space-related activities, President Barack Obama noted in his statement on the new policy, "We can point to satellites orbiting hundreds of miles overhead that can identify our location within inches, or communications systems that allow information to flow around the world as never before."

The policy document charges U.S. governmental departments and agencies to identify potential areas for international cooperation including GNSS and related fields such as geospatial information products and services, Earth science and observation, environmental monitoring, disaster mitigation and relief, and search and rescue.

The new policy reflects a marked change from the direction set out in the previous presidential guidance issued in a December 2004 national security directive. That document called for a more unilateral approach to U.S. leadership in GNSS affairs.

"Our policy reflects the ways in which our imperatives and our obligations in space have changed in recent decades.  No longer are we racing against an adversary; in fact, one of our central goals is to promote peaceful cooperation and collaboration in space. . . ." the president said in his statement.

Led by Peter Marquez, director of space policy for the White House National Security Council (NSC) and Damon Wells of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the administration began a broad review of George W. Bush’s space policies a year ago.

The complete section of the lastest national policy statement concerning GPS and GNSS follows:

Maintain and Enhance Space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Systems. The United States must maintain its leadership in the service, provision, and use of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). To this end, the United States shall:

— Provide continuous worldwide access, for peaceful civil uses, to the Global Positioning System (GPS) and its government-provided augmentations, free of direct user charges;

— Engage with foreign GNSS providers to encourage compatibility and interoperability, promote transparency in civil service provision, and enable market access for U.S.industry;
−−Operate and maintain the GPS constellation to satisfy civil and national security needs, consistent with published performance standards and interface specifications. Foreign positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services may be used to augment and strengthen the resiliency of GPS; and
— Invest in domestic capabilities and support international activities to detect, mitigate, and increase resiliency to harmful interference to GPS, and identify and implement, as necessary and appropriate, redundant and back-up systems or approaches for critical infrastructure, key resources, and mission-essential functions.

In response to what could be a misinterpretation of a Wall Street Journal article on space policy published today, the U.S. National Coordination Office (NCO) for Space-based PNT issued a Q&A disclaimer that the 2010 National Space Policy calls for shared control of GPS with other nations.

“The National Space Policy is clear that the United States will continue to operate and maintain the GPS constellation in accordance with published standards and interface specifications,” the NCO statement says.” The policy reaffirms principles of international cooperation that already existed in the U.S. Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy of 2004.

“The United States has been pursuing compatibility and interoperability (at the user level) between GPS and other satellite navigation systems for over a decade. Such cooperation promotes GPS standards and will improve service for GPS users worldwide.”

In coordination between the White House and the NCO, the GPS/GNSS/PNT language was worked by representatives of the Department of Defense, Deparment of Homeland Security, and civil agencies including the commerce, state, and transportation departments as well as NASA.

A fact sheet on the 2010 National Space Policy and downloadable PDF of the entire policy document can be found online here.

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