GPS Going Down?!?

The recent news that there is a risk of the GPS satellite system failing has raised serious concerns among many travelers, researchers and professionals. Chris Lefkow recently wrote an article for the Agence France-Press (AFP) that discussed the possibility of GPS satellites failing because the U.S. Air Force has not taken steps to maintain the currently used satellites.

Additionally, it is not clear if the Air Force is going to be able to replace failing satellites at a fast enough rate. Lefkow reported that the U.S. plans to invest 5.8 billion dollars in the GPS system by 2013. Lefkow also reported that Colonel Dave Buckman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Space Command, said that GPS will not fail, which is a relief to some, but many are still concerned that their GPS devices will not work for much longer. This is an issue that raises a number of very serious questions about the future of GPS related work. What are the implications for such an event? What impact would a failing GPS system have on an already stagnant economy? Would the failure of the GPS satellites put an end to GIS related work? These questions are worth considering especially when we factor in the rise in the number of people using smart phone devices and who rely on GPS in their daily lives. Personally, I feel maintaining our GPS satellite capability is a critical part of not only our national defense, but also of our technology and service based economy. The U.S. has been moving (for a while now) to a knowledge based economic structure. A large portion of our manufacturing capabilities have dissipated over the past several decades, and we have moved toward a technology and service based economy. We have become accustomed to luxuries like GPS and we have benefitted from its use, but what would it mean to lose it? I have no doubt that the U.S. Air Force understands the importance of our GPS system, and I believe they are committed to maintaining our current level of GPS capability. However, the implications of losing GPS capabilities are worth considering, and should be taken seriously by the GIS community.

What would we do? Would we return to our stone age life without Google Earth and Google Maps? Would we forget what we have been able to learn from GPS technology? Would the GIS community suffer? The answers to these questions are not entirely clear, but are nonetheless worth asking. I expect to see more about GPS related problems in the future, especially as more and more people make use of the technology. However, I also expect to see continued improvements in GPS for the same reason. As more people learn about and develop the use of GPS its importance will continue to rise, and so will the priority of keeping the satellites flying.