WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US military is working on super-powerful updates to its GPS satellite navigation technology to try to trump the rival European Galileo project which just received key funding, experts say.
European Union lawmakers agreed last week on a budget to include 2.4 billion euros (3.5 billion dollars) for the stalled Galileo satellite-navigation project, now set to be deployed by 2013, the EU presidency said.
But in a bid to maintain its economic and military edge in the sector, the United States has been preparing to wheel out GPS III satellites, the most significant upgrade to its Global Positioning System since it was first launched in the 1990s.
"The next-generation GPS III system is expected to have about 500 times the transmitter power of the current system, multiplying its resistance to jamming," said the defense analysis website Globalsecurity.org.
Satellite navigation systems can allow users on the ground -- from jet pilots to lost motorists -- to locate any point on Earth.
"GPS III will have second and third frequencies to contain civilian signal, more robust signal transmissions, and provide real-time unaugmented one-meter accuracy" to locate objects on the ground, Globalsecurity said.
Galileo meanwhile envisages its own network of 30 satellites to beam radio signals to receivers on the ground. Its supporters promise it will give greater accuracy and reliability than the GPS -- a challenge to the US leaders in the field.
"The GPS Block III satellite will provide improved positioning, navigation, and timing services to military and civil users by improving accuracy, integrity, and resistance to hostile jamming," said David Madden, commander of the GPS Wing in the US Air Force, in a recent interview.
"These new capabilities will be introduced incrementally in a series of three blocks. The first Block IIIA launch is scheduled for late 2013," he was quoted as saying, on the specialist GPS website Inside GNSS.
The new US network will eventually consist of 32 satellites.
The GPS system, also known as Navstar (Navigation Satellite for Time and Ranging), was developed by the US Department of Defense in 1986.
The Pentagon grants free access to the satellite network for companies making GPS gadgets for civilian use, such as public or maritime transport systems.
It updated the technology last year, releasing a new generation of satellites with a higher-quality signal, jamming resistance and the capacity to locate positions extra-precisely, within a few meters.
But as prospects improve for the Galileo project, the US military is looking into further expansion. In July it made a 1.8 billion-dollar call for offers for companies to make the first installment of eight satellites in the GPS III range.
Spokesman Steve Tatum of Lockheed Martin, one of the firms manufacturing the GPS devices, said the Air Force was expected to award this contract early in 2008.
The force said in a recent statement it was also awarding separate contracts worth 160 million dollars each to two US contractors, Northrop Grumman and the Raytheon Company, for preliminary development work on the ground bases and antennas.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »