07 Apr 14. The world’s global positioning industry watched in disbelief on April 2, 2014, as all of the 24 GLONASS satellites that make up Russia’s equivalent of the GPS system failed at once. This unprecedented and deeply worrying total disruption of what is one half of the world’s operational global navigation satellite constellations shook the industry, and unequivocally confirmed the public warnings that have been voiced for years by Locata Corporation and other prominent industry experts.
“There is no way you can misinterpret this clear sign of the elephant in the room,” said Nunzio Gambale, CEO of Locata Corporation. “We have been telling the industry for years that you cannot have a critically important capability like GPS without also having a backup! What is Plan B if the satellite systems fail? What replaces the space signal when there is a problem? If anyone needed a sign to understand why Locata has spent years inventing and developing the world’s first local terrestrial equivalent of the GPS system, then Wednesday’s meltdown of a complete global satellite navigation system is it. This event should terrify every nation, government, and company that depends on navigation satellites for their business or, in some cases, their very lives.”
The navigation and timing functions of the global positioning systems are integrated into the core of almost every modern technology. Society has come to rely on these technologies as a foundation for global commerce and communication. Everyone has become very familiar with the signals being used for personal applications, such as navigating to an address or finding the closest sushi restaurant. Yet few understand that satellite navigation and timing signals now underpin the world’s banking systems, stock exchanges, digital TV and Internet, cell phone networks, and, in some cases, the national electricity supply. GPS, in particular, plays a crucial role in transportation, shipping, and logistics, serving as the enabling technology for critical functions like air traffic control. Reliability is therefore not just important; it is essential across all applications. Locata and others, such as the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation (RNTF) in Washington, D.C., have tirelessly highlighted the need for redundant terrestrial systems that will back up expensive, vulnerable, and aging global satellite navigation constellations while simultaneously providing the local control and resiliency that satellite-based systems simply cannot deliver.
Commenting on this GLONASS outage for GPS World, Dr. Richard Langley, a professor in the Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering at the University of New Brunswick, stated that this is “… another reason to have backups. And not just other Global Navigation Satellite Systems.” This sentiment was echoed strongly by many prominent experts, including Professor Chris Rizos of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales. “This catastrophic failure of one of the world’s two global satellite navigation constellations is a wakeup call for all of us,” said Rizos. “We ignore the possibility of these ‘Black Swan’ events at our own peril.”
Russian authorities have not reported the exact cause of the GLONASS outage. Theories are circulating that blame faulty system and/or software upgrades, recent solar flares that could cause radio communication outages, or even the possibility that this was a targeted cybersecurity attack. No matter the cause, fixing the outage took close to 13 hours. During that time, Russia’s version of the GPS was crippled and unusable. The disruption was immediately felt around the world, especially in professional applications, such as tractor automation for farming, machine control and robotics in mining and heavy industry, and in the national infrastructure used by surveyors and industry across many countries. GPS World reported that during the outage, an engineer from one