Air Force Disputes Potential Failure of GPS

In its first-ever Twitter conference, the Air Force Space Command promises no degradation of GPS service despite a GAO report claiming otherwise.

The Air Force Space Command took to Twitter May 19 to defuse concerns that the nation's GPS system could potentially begin failing in 2010 because the Air Force has fallen behind schedule in deploying new GPS satellites. According to a recent GAO (Government Accountability Office) report, there are serious questions looming as to whether the government will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current military, enterprise and civilian needs without interruption. The report sparked a number of media accounts speculating on the GPS system failing as early as next year.
"The issue is under control. We are working hard to get out the word. The issue is not whether GPS will stop working. There's only a small risk we will not continue to exceed our performance standard," Col. Dave Buckman, AFSPC command lead for Position, Navigation and Timing, said in the Twitter conference.
Because of contracting woes, missed deadlines and cost overruns plaguing the GPS system, the May 7 GAO report predicted there is an "increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to."
The United States currently has 31 GPS satellites in orbit, grouped in an array known as a constellation. The current block upgrade of GPS satellites has overrun its original estimated cost of $729 million by an additional $870 million. In addition, the block will be completed three years late.
The GAO also noted, based on the most recent satellite reliability and launch data approved in March, the worse case scenario of maintaining a constellation of at least 24 operational satellites falls below 95 percent during fiscal year 2010 and remains below 95 percent until the end of fiscal year 2014, at times falling to about 80 percent.
"Agree w/GAO thr's a potential risk, but GPS isn't falling out of the sky-we have plans 2 mitigate risk & prevent a gap," the AFSPC said in Twitterese. "We have 30+ satellites on orbit now. We'll launch another in Aug 09, and again early 10. Going below 24 won't happen."
President Obama showed his support for the current GPS system in his 2010 budget, proposing the elimination of the Loran navigational system. The White House said the Loran system has been made "obsolete by GPS" and dropping the program would save taxpayers $35 million in 2010 and $190 million over five years.
The Loran system employs a chain of land-based, low frequency radio transmitters to send out precise times and coordinated signals, and it serves as a backup to the GPS program. There are currently 24 Loran stations in the continental United States, and the United States has already spent $160 million in upgrades to the system.