Until now, positioning has been a lot like the weather: everybody talked about it, but nobody did anything about it.
Not practically, not without affordable, accessible tools and the techno-cultural sensibilities to bring it about.
But this first decade of the 21st century may prove to be the Axial Age of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) community. Four systems, developed by four political and economic powers, are in various states of maturity and robustness.
The signals used by GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and several regional and augmentation systems are the lingua franca for satellite based positioning, navigation, and timing.
This magazine is dedicated to speaking the new language of GNSS, in the hopes that we can create the community’s Rosetta Stone (and avoid the Tower of Babel.)
Thinking Aloud is my chance, in each issue, to help that process along.
Glen Gibbons, Jr.
SPEECHES AND PRESENTATIONS:
Thirty years after GPS was made available for civil aviation we still have not reached the Promised Land of mandatory, real-time tracking of airliners over the oceans.
The latest incursion of the Federal Communications Commission into GNSS affairs is more than annoying — it’s potentially ruinous for U.S. interests.
If humans had six fingers per hand and foot, would we be inclined to the duodecimal and become whizzes at fractions and closer friends with clocks?
The Galileo satellite launch failure is not really an unmitigated disaster, and in the long run several good things will probably come out of this.
The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is probably the best use of an abandoned McDonald’s hamburger stand that I’ve heard of.
The idea of a federal agency requiring life-critical information be sent to state officials who have no plans for using it does not represent the finest moment for governance in America.
We must acknowledge the reality of — and debt owed to — the GPS C/A-code’s historical precedence, its persistent utility, and its incorporation into the more than one billion GNSS receivers in use today.
How about these New Year’s resolutions: admit GPS is critical infrastructure, support multi-GNSS monitoring, ensure location privacy for citizens, and figure out a real backup for PNT.
The real GNSS danger from Russia is protectionism, not espionage.
Gaming GNSS is in its infancy and poses an enormous temptation to malfeasance.
The conduct of federal officials in the matter of phone and email records inevitably will taint public opinion about civil domestic use of UAS.
It’s no longer just a question of simply eliminating systems from the PNT mix and closing redundant operations.
The latest Orwellian theme: “The sky isn’t falling — it’s watching!”
The temptation to shape regulatory measures, market initiatives, or technology development in ways that unfairly benefit one’s own program battles the idea that we are all in this together, or should be.
We give thanks for those new initiatives, yet unseen or unborn, stirring throughout the world of GNSS.
It’s free, it’s worked great — without failure, really — for nearly 20 years, and it has delivered to the world’s citizens an affordable, accurate, and widely available capability for precise location and timing unprecedented in human history.
Many people have tried to reinvent the wheel, but no one has gotten into a patent fight over it.
The regulatory phase of the GPS/LightSquared controversy appears to be winding down, and the litigation phase warming up.
What began, in the words of the Defense Department, as a “force enhancer” has become an economy enhancer of enormous value.
Only the backing of a billion-dollar hedge fund operating in the plutocracy that America’s political system has become enables LightSquared to dominate this conversation.
Common sense and due diligence would seem to call for holding off on rolling out LightSquared’s system until further tests can be conducted.
The GPS community needs a continuing, effective organization to prepare for the next attack on its hard-won equities.
The FCC’s new report repudiates the principle that latecomers to an RF band must ensure their operations do not harm existing users.
Like questionable genealogies that trace one’s roots back to some royal family or other, the LightSquared arguments beg the question of what its initiative means in the near future.
In the absence of solid agreements on how to achieve compatible, interoperable services, the addition of signals becomes a bane, not a boon, to users of any and all GNSS systems.
Ultimately, the really interesting aspects of Internet and GNSS innovations come in their combination, not their separation.
We are enjoying the fruits of almost invisible labor - the efforts of those who put satellites into the sky and signals on the air.
Release of an ICD would be good for both the Compass program and the community of GNSS receiver designers and end users who are looking for the additional signal resources that the Chinese system can bring.
More systems, more satellites, more signals — A conservative estimate totals 441 different modes that a receiver could operate in. Difficult as they now appear, sorting out frequency-sharing issues among the various providers may turn out to be the easy part.
In 2000 the United States turned off GPS selective availability. The consequences of that decision — probably immeasurable at that moment — are still rippling through the world today as the number of GPS receivers in use soars toward the billions.
Release of the Galileo OS SIS ICD marks the resolution of a complex political process, and does so by coming down on the side of transparency, non-exclusivity, and maximum public benefit.
The Volpe report came out on the day before 9/11/01. Now we’ve blown through another nine years without really addressing the issue. And if Volpe repeated its study today, only assessing the effects of the vulnerability of the world’s timing infrastructure as well as transportation . . . well, no one really wants to think about that. And so nothing has really been done about it.
With Loran-C’s demise follows the probable abandonment of enhanced Loran (eLoran) as a multimodal backup to GPS. We have to hope that it won’t take a disaster to correct the gaping security hole in our critical national infrastructure for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT).
Will the coming year mark the beginning of the Golden Age of GNSS? At first glance, such a notion might seem not just optimistic, but noticeably ill timed. Read further, however, and you’ll see a broad-spectrum list of events likely to occur in 2010 that could prove the best is still to come.
It's hard to imagine that 20 years can embrace nearly the entirety of the public presence of a phenomenon such as the Internet or GNSS.
Defining who we are by sketching the shadows of strangers is often easier than filling in the outline of our own qualities and aspirations on which to build the basis of mutual interests.
The continuing question is whether management of Galileo has changed sufficiently and soon enough to make a difference.
So, President Obama wants to spend some money on infrastructure, eh? Well, here’s an idea: send some of it GPS’s way.
The parting regime was an administration of people — people who kept working away through all the bad days and dark hours. Just folks who got up each day and did the best they could with what they had and where they were...
Actually, six percent isn’t the solution, it’s the problem — fewer than six percent of high school seniors in the United States plan to pursue degrees and careers in science or engineering. That’s the discouraging fact of American life discovered in a recent study by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).
Once again the world is becoming a cauldron of grievances involving its most powerful nations, including the four primary members of the ICG Providers Forum.
From time to time, the words in the column title have been a metaphor for the U.S. GPS program, and could end up as a permanent description of the state of our national public infrastructure - deferred maintenance.
The use of GPS (or GNSS) is only limited by our imaginations. . . How many times have you heard that since someone–probably Charlie Trimble– first coined the phrase back at the dawn of space-based PNT civilization?
Formation of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee (PNT ExCom) three years ago occurred under circumstances as awkward as its interminable name.
All four major GNSS programs seem to have reached the same passage —not quite an impasse, but a definite narrowing of the political space.
Perhaps we could turn an earlier generation’s aphorism on its head: don’t trust any GNSS under 30.
Technology agnostic. Now there's an interesting term. . . it has such a fine post-Enlightenment ring to it, connoting an analytical, studied approach to things. But when it comes to space-based positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT), I'm not one. I'm a GNSS believer. I'm for it. I'm a big fan.
We have an abiding trust, it seems, in the constancy of time. Amid this welter of transience, it's nice to think about those steady little increments of time, like the gentle susurrus of creation itself. . . Too bad it ain't so.
The first time I heard the term “system of systems” applied to GNSS, I thought to myself, “Yeah, a catchy phrase, but that won’t really happen.” After all, much of the last 15 years has been spent accentuating the differences, divisions, and mutually exclusive competition among the existing and proposed GNSS systems.
I opened the PDF with this month’s cover design from our art director, Tim Jordan, about five minutes after I picked up the morning newspaper. In the paper, a front-page article described our local school district’s plans for starting what would eventually become a 12-year immersion program in Mandarin (putonghua or guoyu). To my way of thinking, the news about the school program was just one more confirmation of our decision not merely to highlight two articles on China’s Compass program on our cover, but to add it to the galaxy of GNSS systems on Inside GNSS’s masthead.
So, anyway, about this likelihood of the European Union discarding the public-private partnership (PPP) concept for Galileo. People seem pretty nervous about it. Others are gleefully ready to say “I told you so.” Still others are looking for political cover. But it’s really just business as usual. . .
Fabrication technology delivers some amazing results — no question about it. But the distinctive value of GNSS is not to be discovered in the foundries of Taiwan or China. Rather, it arises from the imaginations and hard work of engineers and signal designers around the world.
For years many in Europe have started referring to PPP as meaning, “Public Pays Private,” referring to the practical necessity for public subsidy — overt or covert — of an infrastructure that will ultimately pay for itself in the tax revenues generated by user equipment, services, and applications and not solely from revenues derived directly from the system itself.
The scale of a nation’s endeavors tells us a lot about the scope of its ambitions. If Compass/Beidou remains a national or regional system, its significance and the intentions behind it are similarly limited. If Compass becomes a global navigation satellite system, we can assume that its sponsor’s ambitions have a similar scope. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the latter outcome.
The Global Positioning System has gotten along without leap seconds for nearly 30 years, and if GPS system time — which drives the phones, the power grids, the Internet, and even more important, the banks — can get along without it, that’s fine by me.
Robustness, redundancy, availability, interoperability. Like FM radio, these are the qualities that make a GNSS system of systems such a desirable goal — for GNSS product manufacturers and location services providers, for end users, and for the nations building critical infrastructures and national security policies on space-based positioning, navigation, and time.
If all goes well, Galileo will have a full constellation of satellites up in five or six years. But the GPS L1C signal that would use BOC or MBOC won’t even begin launching until 2013, and many years will have to before the old signals are replaced. Given those respective modernization timelines, the bilateral agreement left it up to Europe to decide — BOC or MBOC? — and the United States would follow.
As with al-Zarqawi, so-called smart bombs were also involved in the “right building, wrong target” incident in Belgrade. Which reminds me of an ironic comment I once heard about the limitations of intelligent transportation systems: “What are you going to do when you have ‘smart cars’ with dumb drivers?”
In an industrious and cooperative surge of activity, we have seen three sets of draft specifications reach fruition in the last few weeks: publication of a joint recommendation for design of new civil signals on GPS and Galileo, the Galileo Interface Control Document, and the GPS L1C interface specification.
Over the last couple of years, a series of papers coauthored by members of the European Commission (EC) Galileo Signal Task Force have laid out elements of the frequency plan and signal structure: RF bands, lengths and types of codes, data rates, and so forth. What had remained missing were the Galileo codes and the navigation message structure.
But GNSS is not just physical science, but political science, too. The sound bite as much as the kilobyte. Economics as well as ergonomics. The nanometric microcosm, but also the macrocosm of nations and cultures. How else do we explain the multibillion-dollar infrastructures, programs, posturing, and policy directives?
Slowly, steadily, but with an ever-growing momentum, GNSS-driven applications of accurate time and location are entering the popular imagination. Today, hundreds of millions of people are walking around with GPS receivers in their pockets — whether they know it or not. And literally billions are benefiting from the myriad uses to which the technology is being put.