China's Compass flies as US GPS upgrades flounder

Telecom Asia Staff
12 Jun 2009

China has escalated its bid to be the location-based services positioning network of choice for Asia with the launch of its second global navigation satellite - just before US government officials expressed concern that its own GPS network may fizzle out by next year.

China launched its second Beidou/Compass satellite in mid-April - two years after the first Beidou bird was launched - touting it as a \'second generation\' satellite that represents a transition from a regional satellite navigation system, for which four test satellites were previously launched, to a global concept.

China claims it may add as many as ten more satellites to the global constellation by the end of next year, with a goal of filling out a fleet of 30, in both geostationary and medium-Earth orbits, by 2015. Officials say the system will provide global coverage, \'supplanting the US GPS in Chinese cars, cellphones, and other commercial applications\', according to sister magazine GPS World.

However, Compass - as well as Europe\'s Galileo system and Russian navigation system Glonass - may get an unexpected edge as the US Air Force\'s efforts to modernize the GPS system as old satellites expire are falling behind schedule to the point that the system could actually start seeing dead spots as early as next year.

That\'s according to a report released in early May from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), which said that because of technical problems and contract disputes, the Air Force\'s current Block IIF satellite program has \'overrun its original cost estimate by about $870 million and the launch of its first satellite has been delayed to November 2009 - almost three years late.\'

The GAO report says at this stage, it\'s \'uncertain\' if the Air Force will be able to get enough IIF satellites in orbit to maintain uninterrupted service, which requires a minimum of 24 GPS satellites.

As for what to do about it, a chief recommendation by the GAO was for the Department of Defense to appoint \'a single authority\' to oversee the development of GPS - something the DoD has been reluctant to do because it would run counter to the integral \'dual-use\' principle of GPS as dedicated to both civil and military users.

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