Russia successfully launched three additional GLONASS navigation satellites on Christmas Day, apparently taking advantage of NORAD’s annual PR stunt, tracking Santa Claus. That brings the total number of functional Russian navigational satellites to 18.
GLONASS (GLObal’naya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema) is a competitor to the U.S. GPS system and is capable of providing coverage to the entire Russian territory. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov claims the first compatible consumer devices will be available in the middle of next year. President Vladimir Putin has ensured the project is now being lavishly funded.
The United States government’s stated policy is to provide uninterrupted signals globally. But, according to the NY Times, the U.S. could deny navigation signals to any country as a high-tech form of economic sanction, potentially disrupting power grids, banking systems and other industries.
The Glonass global navigation system (wikipedia), is expected to have a full orbital group of 24 satellites by the end of 2009. By 2010, Russia plans to open the system up to outside nations as well, contributing to an eventual three- or even four-system global market.
The GLONASS signal uses FDMA technology to broadcast a common code on different carrier frequencies. GPS and Galileo use CDMA signals that transmit different codes on the same frequency. Some manufacturers — Javad Navigation Systems, Leica, NovAtel, Topcon, and Trimble — currently offer combined GPS/GLONASS receivers.
Another GPS satellite entrant, the Galileo Positioning System, is being built by the European Space Agency (ESA). The current project plan has the system as operational by 2011-12. The $4.5 billion Galileo navigation system has been delayed by a string of political setbacks.
Russia says they’re in talks with the United States and the European Space Agency to prepare agreements on the use of Glonass jointly with the GPS and the European Galileo satellite navigation systems.
Space is getting crowded:
- The United States NAVSTAR Global Positioning System, as of this year, is the only fully operational GPS system. It consists of up to 32 medium Earth orbit satellites in six different orbital planes, with the exact number of satellites varying as older satellites are retired and replaced.
- The European Galileo program is expected to launch thirty operational satellites by 2012, offering five levels of service.
- GLONASS, from the Russian Federation, is expected to launch 24 satellites by 2017, with new M- and K-class satellites offering additional capabilities for civil users.
- China’s Beidou Compass currently is made up of 4 satellites, with experimental and limited coverage. However, China has planned to develop a truly global satellite navigation system consisting of 35 satellites known as Compass or Beidou-2.
GPS is being modernized to offer new signals and codes. GPS 2R-M (for Modernized), provides two new military signals as well as a second civilian signal. The two new signals on the IIR-M satellite will provide reduced vulnerability to interference and ionospheric corrections.
The next generation GPS is block III. Block IIIA will offer a spot beam for resistance to hostile jamming. The target date is 2013 with incentives offered to the contractors if they can complete it by 2011.
In other news, a statue of the infant Jesus is being fitted with GPS tracking, after the original vanished three weeks ago from a display near Miami, despite being bolted to the ground.
Mary and Joseph will also be fitted with a satellite tracking devices. According to Dina Cellini, who oversees the display, “I don’t anticipate this will ever happen again, but we may need to rely on technology to save our saviour.”