Tag Archives: gps

Israel and India sign three new space agreements

The new colonial movement: India and Israel have inked three new development agreements between their different government space agencies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel has deepened cooperation in space technology between the two countries as the two sides on Wednesday signed three agreements relating to space. The first memorandum of understanding was between Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and Israel Space Agency for cooperation in electric propulsion for small satellites, second was on cooperation in GEO-LEO optical links and third pact was on cooperation in atomic clocks (which are satellite components meant to provide precise locational data).

The third agreement is especially interesting. It indicates that India no longer wants to work with the German company that built its most recent GPS satellites because that company’s atomic clocks all had problems. Unlike the ESA, India has decided that such failures should not be rewarded with more work.

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ESA discovers the wonders of capitalism!

Three stories today illustrate how competition is revolutionizing and energizing the European aerospace industry:

The first two stories are clearly examples of the new competition within the launch industry. The first describes the effort by ESA and Airbus-Safran, a partnership now dubbed ArianeGroup, to get the Ariane 6 rocket built fast and cheaply, under pressure as they are by SpaceX’s lower prices.

The manufacturing consortium is looking for a 40% cost reduction, at least, in the Ariane 6, compared with the Ariane 5. In part that is coming from exploiting new materials and new manufacturing techniques (3D printing, friction stir welding, augmented reality design, etc) and in part by maximising the common use of elements in both the 62 and 64 variants. Avio’s solid-fuelled booster is also the same as the first stage on the company’s Vega rocket, which launches much smaller satellites.

But a big cost saving will come from simply employing fewer people. “There is a transition from Ariane 5 to Ariane 6 (from 2020 to 2023), but from 2024, 2025 onwards – our workforce will be 30% less than today,” explained Hans Steininger, the boss of MT Aerospace, which is making the rocket’s huge metallic propellant tanks.

The second article describes how ESA is suddenly changing its reusable mini-shuttle program from a typical, staid, dead-end research project (where they do a series of test flights with no thought towards using what they learned) to a private mini-shuttle available for lease by researchers of all stripes.

By 2025, ESA officials said, Space Rider could be operating commercially, flying science payloads and bringing them back to Earth for roughly $9,200 per kilogram. Arianespace, the Evry, France-based launch services provider, would likely serve as Space Rider’s operator, offering industry and government customers the opportunity to fill the spaceplane 800-kilogram payload capacity with microgravity science, materials testing, telecommunications and robotics demonstrations.

Previously, the plan had been to test fly this spaceplane without selling its cargo capacity. Now they want to make money on it, right from the beginning.

The third article meanwhile illustrates that the old way of doing things is still a factor in Europe’s space effort. Europe’s Galileo GPS satellite network has been delayed badly by faulty atomic clocks. They are replacing them, and are preparing to resume launches. However, in ordering 8 new satellites they have also decided to keep OHB, the same contractor who provided the faulty atomic clocks, rather than give the contract to a competitor or at least split it between two contractors.

The contract, expected in late 2016, was delayed as the commission and the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA) debated whether to maintain OHB as Galileo’s sole supplier or to award all or part of the contract to competitor Thales Alenia Space Italia.

In the event, the commission and ESA agreed that the savings realized from ordering recurrent-model spacecraft from OHB, and the schedule assurance this provided, outweighed arguments on behalf of dual sourcing. “Dual sourcing is always important but it needs to be weighed against other program requirements” including cost, said Paul Verhoef, ESA’s director of navigation. Verhoef said ESA and the commission may pursue dual sourcing for the next round of Galileo orders, when a new design will be used for the system’s second generation.

I suspect that as competition continues to prove its worth ESA will move to accept the idea of competition in the building of future GPS satellites. For right now, however, this change was more than this large government bureaucracy could handle.

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Lockheed Martin screwup delays delivery of Air Force GPS satellites

Our government in action! Incompetence by a Lockheed Martin subcontractor will delay the delivery of 32 new Air Force GPS satellites and will likely cost the government millions.

Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System used for everything from the military’s targeting of terrorists to turn-by-turn directions for civilians’ smartphones. The program’s latest setback may affect a pending Air Force decision on whether to open the final 22 satellites to competition from Lockheed rivals Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. “This was an avoidable situation and raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management,” Teague said in a Dec. 21 message to congressional staff obtained by Bloomberg News.

The parts in question are ceramic capacitors that have bedeviled the satellite project. They take higher-voltage power from the satellite’s power system and reduce it to a voltage required for a particular subsystem. Last year, the Air Force and contractors discovered that Harris hadn’t conducted tests on the components, including how long they would operate without failing, that should have been completed in 2010.

Now, the Air Force says it found that Harris spent June to October of last year doing follow-up testing on the wrong parts instead of samples of the suspect capacitors installed on the first three satellites. Harris “immediately notified Lockheed and the government” after a post-test inspection, Teague said in his message.

So, the subcontractor first failed to do the required tests, then it did the tests on the wrong parts. Sounds like the kind of quality control problems we have seen recently in Russia and Japan.

The worst part? The contract is a cost-plus contract, which means the government has to absorb the additional costs for fixing the screw-up, not Lockheed Martin or its subcontractor.

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India to launch spare GPS satellite because of single satellite failure

Because of the failure of the atomic clocks on one of its GPS satellites have failed, India now plans to launch one of their spare satellites to increase the system’s redundancy.

The article does not say whether they will make any changes to the clocks on the spare satellite, which are the same as the failed clocks on the Indian satellite and were all built by the same European company that built the clocks on Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites that are also failing.

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Clock problems on one of India’s GPS satellites

One of India’s seven GPS satellites is presently out of commission because its on-board atomic clock has malfunctioned.

The remaining satellites in the constellation is still functioning however, and are sufficient. The nature of this failure, so similar to the clock failures that have hit a number of Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites, makes me wonder if there is a connection.

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Atomic clocks on 9 of 72 European GPS satellites have failed

The atomic clocks on 9 of the 72 European Galileo GPS satellites, designed to compete with the American, Russian, and Chinese GPS satellites, have failed.

No satellite has been declared “out” as a result of the glitch. “However, we are not blind… If this failure has some systematic reason we have to be careful” not to place more flawed clocks in space, [ESA director general Jan Woerner] said.

Each Galileo satellite has four ultra-accurate atomic timekeepers — two that use rubidium and two hydrogen maser. Three rubidium and six hydrogen maser clocks are not working, with one satellite sporting two failed timekeepers. Each orbiter needs just one working clock for the satnav to work — the rest are spares.

The question now, Woerner said, is “should we postpone the next launch until we find the root cause?”

That they are even considering further launches with so many failures of the same units seems absurd. They have a systemic problem, and should fix it before risking further launches.

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Something in the Kremlin is jamming GPS

It appears that any GPS unit that approaches the Kremlin in Moscow can no longer pinpoint accurately its location.

A programmer for Russian internet firm Yandex, Grigory Bakunov, said Thursday his research showed a system for blocking GPS was located inside the Kremlin, the heavily guarded official residence of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Users of GPS have complained on social media in recent months that when they are near the Kremlin their GPS-powered apps stop working or show them to be in Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, 29 kilometers (18 miles) away.

The problem has frustrated those requesting taxis via services such as Uber or looking to catch Pokemons in the popular game played on mobile devices. Large numbers of people running the Moscow marathon last month complained that their jogging apps lost track of how far they had run when they passed the Kremlin.
“I got 40 kilometers added on to my distance. It happened by the Kremlin,” marathoner Andrey Yegorov wrote on Facebook as part of a discussion by runners.

Not surprisingly, the agency in charge of security at the Kremlin declined to comment.

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ULA and SpaceX to compete for GPS launch

The competition heats up: ULA and SpaceX will likely face-off for the right to launch the Air Force’s next GPS satellite.

SpaceX won the last GPS launch with an unopposed bid of $83 million. ULA has said that their average price for an Air Force launch under the EELV program has been $225 million. I suspect that their bid here will be significantly less than that.

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FAA warns public of military GPS jamming tests

The FAA has issued a warning that GPS at high elevations may be unreliable during jamming tests being conducted by the U.S. military during June.

The FAA issued an advisory warning pilots on Saturday that global positioning systems (GPS) could be unreliable during six different days this month, primarily in the Southwestern United States. On June 7, 9, 21, 23, 28, and 30th the GPS interference testing will be taking place between 9:30am and 3:30pm Pacific time. But if you’re on the ground, you probably won’t notice interference.

The testing will be centered on China Lake, California—home to the Navy’s 1.1 million acre Naval Air Weapons Center in the Mojave Desert. The potentially lost signals will stretch hundreds of miles in each direction and will affect various types of GPS, reaching the furthest at higher altitudes. But the jamming will only affect aircraft above 5,000 feet. As you can see from the FAA map below, the jamming will almost reach the California-Oregon border at 40,000 feet above sea level and 505 nautical miles at its greatest range.

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Iridium announces its own alternative to GPS

The competition heats up: Iridium has announced the availability of its own location technology comparable to GPS and using the company’s constellation of satellites.

Iridium Communications Inc. has introduced its Satellite Time and Location (STL) service, an alternative or complement to traditional indoor and outdoor location-based technologies, and declared it ready for use. STL’s position, navigation and timing (PNT) technology is deployed through Iridium’s 66 cross-linked, low-earth orbit satellite constellation. Through Iridium satellites and in GNSS receivers, STL technology can work to verify GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and other navigation services, and also can serve as an alternative for those services when GPS signals are degraded or unavailable. STL also can provide an alternative source of time when testing GPS signals.

Essentially, for practically nothing, using satellites and technology already in orbit, they have created their own system that can both compete and complement the expensive government-built GPS systems.

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Another successful launch for India

The competition heats up: India has successfully launched its seventh home-built GPS satellite, completing their GPS constellation.

The seven first-generation satellites have been launched over a three-year period, starting with the deployment of IRNSS-1A in July 2013. ISRO has launched all of the satellites itself using the PSLV rocket. The flight number for Thursday’s launch was PSLV C33, which saw the vehicle fly in its most powerful configuration, the PSLV-XL. This version of the PSLV was introduced in October 2008 with the launch of the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe, and features more powerful solid rocket boosters than the standard PSLV, increasing the amount of payload it can carry into orbit.

Meanwhile, they are gearing up for the first test flight of the engineering prototype of their reusuable spaceplane.

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India launches sixth GPS satellite

The competition heats up: India has successfully launched the sixth satellite in its own GPS constellation. using its PSLV rocket.

They will complete the GPS constellation with a seventh satellite launch in April. The system however is already functioning, as it only needs a minimum of four satellites to work. Unlike the U.S. 24 satellite system, which is designed to be global, India’s system is regional with its focus centered over India itself. This is why they do not need as many satellites for it to function effectively.

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ULA concedes GPS competition to SpaceX

The competition cools down: ULA has decided against bidding on a military GPS launch contract, leaving the field clear for SpaceX.

ULA, which for the past decade has launched nearly every U.S. national security satellite, said Nov. 16 it did not submit a bid to launch a GPS 3 satellite for the Air Force in 2018 in part because it does not expect to have an Atlas 5 rocket available for the mission. ULA has been pushing for relief from legislation Congress passed roughly a year ago requiring the Air Force to phase out its use of the Russian-made RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket.

This decision might be a lobbying effort by ULA to force Congress to give them additional waivers on using the Atlas 5 engine. Or it could be that they realize that they wouldn’t be able to match SpaceX’s price, and decided it was pointless wasting time and money putting together a bid. Either way, the decision suggests that ULA is definitely challenged in its competition with SpaceX, and until it gets a new lower cost rocket that is not dependent on Russian engines, its ability to compete in the launch market will be seriously hampered.

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Failed GPS satellites to test Einstein’s theory

Making lemonade from lemons: Scientists are going to repurpose two GPS satellites — launched into wrong orbits and thus useless for GPS — to conduct a test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The satellites, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), were mislaunched last year by a Russian Soyuz rocket that put them into elliptical, rather than circular, orbits. This left them unfit for their intended use as part of a European global-navigation system called Galileo.

But the two crafts still have atomic clocks on board. According to general relativity, the clocks’ ‘ticking’ should slow down as the satellites move closer to Earth in their wonky orbits, because the heavy planet’s gravity bends the fabric of space-time. The clocks should then speed up as the crafts recede.

On 9 November, ESA announced that teams at Germany’s Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) in Bremen and the department of Time–Space Reference Systems at the Paris Observatory will now track this rise and fall. By comparing the speed of the clocks’ ticking with the crafts’ known altitudes — pinpointed within a few centimetres by monitoring stations on the ground, which bounce lasers off the satellites — the teams can test the accuracy of Einstein’s theory.

There actually is little uncertainty here. No one expects this experiment to disprove Einstein’s theory, but the failed spacecraft provide a great opportunity to measure things at an accuracy never previously attempted, which in turn will help improve future GPS design.

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Air Force to open bidding on launches

The competition heats up? An unnamed Air Force official has said that they intend to open up competitive bidding on as many as 10 military launches through 2017.

This might be part of the agreement between SpaceX and the Air Force that included SpaceX dropping its lawsuit and the Air Force giving a spy satellite launch that SpaceX wanted to bid on to ULA. In exchange, the Air Force will allow SpaceX to bid on a number of GPS satellite launches.

Then again, this is not an official announcement. Until it actually happens officially, I would not trust the Air Force to do what it should or promised.

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Europe’s continuing problems with Galileo GPS

A look at this week’s failed Soyuz launch and the continuing problems Europe has had building its Galileo GPS satellite constellation.

The program has had a series of problems and failures, which this most recent launch only helps highlight.

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Soyuz puts two satellites in wrong orbit

A Russian-made Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana for Arianespace has placed two European Galileo GPS satellites into the wrong orbit.

Russianspaceweb suggests that the problem was caused by the rocket’s Russian Fregat upper stage. (Scroll down about halfway to read their report on this launch.)

Multiple independent sources analyzing the situation suggested that the Fregat upper stage had fired its engine for the right duration, however the stage’s orientation in space during the second or both maneuvers had probably been wrong. According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a veteran space historian, the Fregat’s angular orientation error during engine firing could reach as much as 145 degrees.

This failure is a triple whammy. It hits both Arianespace and Russia since the Soyuz was part of a partnership between the two. It also hits Europe’s Galileo GPS satellite, which after many years of development was beginning to move towards full operation.

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Arianespace and ESA sign contract for three launches

Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) signed a contract on Thursday for the Ariane 5 rocket to launch 12 more of Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites on three launches.

This contract is a perfect example of European pork. Europe’s Galileo system might provide competition to the U.S. GPS and Russian Glonass systems, but I am not sure what additional capabilities it provides that will convince GPS users to switch to it. Instead, building it provides European jobs, while using the Ariane 5 rocket to launch it gives that increasingly uncompetitive rocket some work to do. In fact, this situation really reminds me of the U.S. launch market in the 1990s, when Boeing and Lockheed Martin decided that, rather than compete with Russia and ESA for the launch market, they instead decided to rely entirely on U.S. government contracts, since those contracts didn’t really demand that they reduce their costs significantly to compete.

Europe now appears to be heading down that same road.

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Russia has moved today to exclude access by the U.S. military to any GPS stations in its territory.

Russia has moved today to exclude access by the U.S. military to any GPS stations in its territory.

It appears the Russians have has much empty bluster as the Obama administration. When they first said they were going to block access to these stations, they made it sound like they were going to cut-off all access. Instead we learn that it is only limited to U.S. military authorities. Since the stations are mostly used by scientists for geological research, Russia is therefore not really cutting anyone off from anything.

Reminds me of the Obama administrations sanctions against Russia. A big announcement, but then they exclude everything of importance from the sanctions when it appears those sanctions might actually be irritating to either side.

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The consequences if Russia carries out its threat to shut down the U.S. science GPS stations in Russia will be relatively minimal according to scientists.

The consequences if Russia carries out its threat to shut down the U.S. science GPS stations in Russia will be relatively minimal according to scientists.

Only if the stations, which are essentially nothing more that GPS geological data-loggers, are removed permanently or shut down for a long period will the consequences to geological research become more damaging. The article also points out the stupidity of the American government in this dispute. Its refusal to allow similar Russian GPS geological research data-loggers in the states makes no sense.

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Read the full transcript of Tuesday’s briefing in Russia on the subject of the U.S./Russian cooperation in space.

Read the full transcript of Tuesday’s briefing in Russia on the subject of the U.S./Russian cooperation in space.

It is very worthwhile reading the entire thing. The text makes it very clear that Russia is not kicking us out of ISS, as has been wrongly reported by several news agencies. It also makes clear that the Russians consider the Obama administration’s actions childish, thoughtless, and unproductive. They also emphasize how the U.S. government is generally an “unreliable” partner in these matters, something that I have noted before when our government has broken space agreements with Europe.

The text also clarifies the GPS situation. The stations we have in Russia are in connection with scientific research, something they wish to do also in the U.S. If an agreement isn’t reached, that research will cease. Actual use of GPS for navigational purposes will not be effected.

Side note: NASA says that they have not yet received any official notice from Russia concerning the briefing above. This might be because Rogozin’s briefing was meant merely as a shot across the bow, or it could be that the Russians have not yet gotten around to doing it. We shall see.

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LightSquared has filed for bankruptcy

Another Obama tech wonder company dies: LightSquared has filed for bankruptcy.

From the beginning engineers were saying that LightSquared’s system would interfere with GPS. The only reason the company lasted as long as it did was because it had the political backing of the Obama administration. And the reason it had that backing is because the company’s CEO was a big supporter of Obama.

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“The villain of the piece.”

LightSquared and GPS: “The villain of the piece.”

The answer emerging from countless legal filings and Congressional hearings is that the government itself is the villain of the piece, the absence of collaboration between agencies allowing one to act without consulting the others. In bypassing its normal processes to expedite approval of LightSquared’s plan to use its mobile satellite service frequencies for a terrestrial broadband wireless network, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) left its fellow Defense and Transportation Departments, Homeland Security and others, scrambling to protect GPS signals on which they now depend.

Actually, saying the “government” is the villain is too vague. Let us name names, highlighted in bold below:

An independent agency, the FCC claimed to be acting in the public interest by boosting the Obama administration’s national broadband plan when it approved LightSquared’s proposal, but in bypassing the normal notice of proposed rulemaking step it short-circuited a technical process that would have addressed the GPS interference issue in an orderly matter. In the subsequent rush to perform tests, critics were quick to point out close personal and political links between President Barack Obama, FCC chairman Julian Genachowski and hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone, LightSquared’s majority owner.

“Substantial federal resources, including over $2 million from the FAA, have been expended and diverted from other programs in testing and analyzing LightSquared’s proposals,” John Porcari, deputy transportation secretary, testified to Congress on Feb. 8. “This level of investment in assisting a commercial applicant to achieve the successful approval of its government application is quite unusual,” he said. [emphasis mine]

Shall we put it more bluntly, as I like to do? Obama and Genachowski attempted to bypass the normal licensing procedures in order to help Falcone (who had given mucho contributions to Obama’s campaign war chest) and in the process wasted millions of taxpayer dollars while simultaneously threatening the operation of millions of GPS units used by the general public and the military.

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LightSquared seeks an investigation into one of the GPS advisory board members that said their system interferes with GPS

LightSquared has announced that it is seeking an investigation into the GPS advisory board which said its system interferes with GPS.

On Thursday, the mobile broadband startup petitioned the Inspector General of NASA to investigate Bradford Parkinson, the vice chairman of a board that advises the government on GPS. Parkinson should be removed from discussions about potential interference between GPS and LightSquared’s proposed LTE (Long Term Evolution) network because he is also a director of GPS vendor Trimble Navigation, LightSquared said in its petition.

As lawyers say, when you’ve got the facts, pound the facts. When the facts are against you, pound the law. And when the law is against you, pound the table. Right now, LightSquared is pounding the law, as the technical results of the GPS investigation were quite clear: their system will interfere with most commercial and military GPS units.

That they went to the NASA Inspector General is instructive, since NASA has nothing to do with this issue.

Note that the law is also against LightSquared. I expect them to soon start pounding the table.

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