Tag Archives: gps

Russian Soyuz-2 rocket launches Glonass GPS-type satellite

Using their Soyuz-2 rocket, the Russians today successfully launched a new Glonass GPS-type satellite into orbit.

Ten seconds after lift-off the rocket was hit by lightning, though this did no harm.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

7 China
6 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
4 Russia
3 India

The U.S. continues to lead China 11 to 7 in the national rankings.

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China launches GPS-type satellite

China yesterday launched another one of its Beidou GPS-type satellites using its Long March 3C rocket.

This is their fourth backup BeiDou placed in orbit, and the 45th total that has been launched.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

7 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 10 to 7 in the national rankings.

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Russians routinely disrupt GPS data in sensitive areas

According to one report, in the past three years the Russians have routinely and successfully fed fake GPS data to units at locations the Russians consider sensitive or of high priority.

The report — published by the Center for Advanced Defense (C4ADS), a nonprofit intelligence firm focused on worldwide security issues — found that at least 9,883 instances of spoofing occurred near sensitive areas in Russia and Crimea and during times when high-ranking officials, such as President Vladamir Putin, were present. In addition, the data showed that spoofing regularly occurred near Khmeimim Airbase in Syria during Russian operations there.

The findings underscore the dangers of relying on global positioning data, such as that provided by the global positioning system and similar technology across the globe, because the service can be disrupted or co-opted to deliver false data, says one author of the C4ADS report, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The story also described one case where researchers at the University of Texas in Austin:

were able to build a device for less than $1,000 to spoof the position of a ship and cause it to change course. “The ship actually turned, and we could all feel it, but the chart display and the crew saw only a straight line,” said Todd Humphreys, assistant professor of the department of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, at the time.

None of this should surprise anyone. It does however underline the need for there to be alternative navigational systems available. Ship’s crews should have a sextant available and should know how to use it. Missiles and airplanes similarly should have a backup system to check their GPS against.

And hikers and drivers should never totally rely on their GPS. Use it as a map, for guidance, but always verify its suggestions with common sense.

Hat tip reader Stephen Taylor.

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Update your GPS before April 6 or it might not work!

Older GPS and those that have not recently updated their firmware might not work properly after April 6, 2019.

GPS signals from satellites include a timestamp, needed in part to calculate one’s location, that stores the week number using ten binary bits. That means the week number can have 210 or 1,024 integer values, counting from zero to 1,023 in this case. Every 1,024 weeks, or roughly every 20 years, the counter rolls over from 1,023 to zero.

The first Saturday in April will mark the end of the 1,024th week, after which the counter will spill over from 1,023 to zero. The last time the week number overflowed like this was in 1999, nearly two decades on from the first epoch in January 1980.

You can see where this is going. If devices in use today are not designed or patched to handle this latest rollover, they will revert to an earlier year after that 1,024th week in April, causing attempts to calculate position to potentially fail. System and navigation data could even be corrupted, we’re warned.

Devices after 2010 should be all right, but it is advised to update the firmware to the latest version. Earlier devices might not fare so well.

The issue here is not so much handheld outdoor GPS units, but the GPS in smartphones as well as elsewhere. If you think a device you own uses GPS in any aspect, it is probably wise to update its firmware. The world is not going to end if you don’t, but you will guarantee that you will avoid some annoying inconvenience by doing so.

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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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