May 20, 2009
The global positioning system could fail next year and repairs aren't moving quickly enough to prevent failure, according a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
It's unclear whether the U.S. Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to prevent disruption in GPS service for military and civilian users, according to the report. The GAO said that the Air Force has struggled in recent years to stay within cost and scheduling constraints while building GPS satellites. So far, one satellite program has incurred cost overruns of $870 million and the launch of its first satellite has been pushed back three years to November 2009. "Of particular concern is leadership for GPS acquisition, as GAO and other studies have found the lack of a single point of authority for space programs and frequent turnover in program managers have hampered requirements setting, funding stability, and resource allocation," the report states. "If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be 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." That could have wide-ranging implications on all GPS users, although the Air Force and others can make contingency plans, the GAO report said. The Air Force also has had problems synchronizing the next generation of GPS satellites with the ground control and user equipment, which hinders military GPS satellite capabilities, GAO concluded. The U.S. Department of Defense and others have taken prudent steps to manage requirements and coordinate among the many organizations involved with GPS so civilians can have access, according to GAO. However, there are still several challenges in meeting civilian requirements and ensuring GPS compatibility with new, potentially competing global space-based positioning, navigation, and timing systems, according to the report.
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