In January a software upgrade designed to support a new generation of GPS satellites called Block IIF was installed resulting in the failure of over 10,000 US military GPS recievers. While civilian receivers were not affected in January, the next steps in this process may have profound implications for civilian GPS users including pilots who increasingly rely on GPS for navigation.
Late last week the US Air Force launched the first of 12 new satellites designed to provide ultra-precise navigation and timing services. These satellites will be used by both military and civilian receivers and are intended to be less vulnerable to jamming as well as longer lived. They will use advanced atomic clocks for improved accuracy and will benefit aviation safety and search and rescue efforts. This new system built by Boeing, has been dubbed GPS 2F-1 and is expected to last 12 years under solar power. It is said to be twice as accurate as the current system.
Currently nearly a billion people worldwide use GPS for everything from recreation and farming to aviation, banking and disaster relief, in addition to it’s military uses. Many are asking what the effect will be for the everyday user of GPS. Will the new satellites be compatible with existing civilian receivers, or will we all have to purchase new ones? Will the old system be phased out and what is the expected date when all 12 new satellites will be in operation? Will my little handheld TomTom stop insisting that I turn right in 300 feet, even though that would put me over the side of a cliff? We can only wait and hope.