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What Happens If Satnav fails?


Article by: Darren Griffin
Date: 8 Mar 2011

pocketgpsworld.comA report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering has once again raised the spectre of our over reliance on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and associated technology.

The detailed report reveals just how reliant, maybe overly so, we have become. GNSS provides highly accurate timing signals which are extensively used in banking, telecommunications and even quantum cryptography as well as the traditional users in road transport, maritime and aviation.

A number of interesting points are raised in the report. With no-one having a clear oversight of GNSS and those who rely on the data, no-one can accurately predict the outcome of a partial or total failure of the network. But what is clear is that an outage could bring down communications networks, affect banking systems and a myriad of other services and let's not forget the navigation systems that now rely on GPS.

And the concerns are justified. There are a number of areas in which GNSS is vulnerable. There is a lack of redundancy in the satellite constellations, the risk of human error in the uploading of data to the satellites, clock errors, service interruption due to radiation, solar storms etc and the ever present fear of terrorism with attacks on ground based installations vital to the system.

The US Government Accountability Office has already raised concerns that the NAVSTAR GPS constellation could be at risk of multiple failures. Ageing spacecraft are overdue for replacement due to late delivery of new hardware. And bad data has been uploaded in error on a number of occasions and there is a genuine fear that a solar storm could knock out multiple satellites.

The Royal Academy also raise the issue of GPS jammers. These devices are widely available in high and low power variants and although it is illegal to operate one, bizarrely it is perfectly lawful to buy and sell them. People are buying them to block tracking devices installed in company vehicles or tracking devices installed to protect a vehicle against theft. With there being no legitimate use for such a device it would seem sensible to legislate to ban their sale entirely?

The aim of the report is to raise the visibility of these issues and cause users to consider what they would do if the service was interrupted. Do they have resilient systems that can operate in the absence of the GNSS service until service is restored? Are those systems that rely on the precision timing able to operate autonomously if the timing signal is lost, and if so, for how long? A localised outage may last a matter of hours but a large system failure could put the timing signals out of service for months or even years.

The full report can be read on the Royal Academy of Engineering's web site here.
Comments
Posted by exportman on Tue Mar 08, 2011 11:43 am Reply with quote

What Happens If Satnav fails?

A lot of people get lost Laughing

Some will have to learn to drive with their eyes on something other than the satnav and maybe ready road signs. Fewer people will drive on to raiway crossing or drive across traffic at no right turn junctions.

What will they blame if they cant blame the satnav for sending them the wrong way


 
Posted by PaulB2005 on Tue Mar 08, 2011 11:47 am Reply with quote

exportman Wrote:
What Happens If Satnav fails?

A lot of people get lost Laughing

Some will have to learn to drive with their eyes on something other than the satnav and maybe ready road signs. Fewer people will drive on to raiway crossing or drive across traffic at no right turn junctions.

What will they blame if they cant blame the satnav for sending them the wrong way


Er. It's not just vehicle sat nav mind....

Quote:
GNSS provides highly accurate timing signals which are extensively used in banking, telecommunications and even quantum cryptography as well as the traditional users in road transport, maritime and aviation.


and

Quote:
what is clear is that an outage could bring down communications networks, affect banking systems and a myriad of other services


Quite a few NON-navigational systems rely on the accurate time clock signals for their operation.


 
Posted by MaFt on Tue Mar 08, 2011 11:48 am Reply with quote

exportman Wrote:
What will they blame if they cant blame the satnav for sending them the wrong way


That their printed maps were out of date?


MaFt®

 
Posted by PaulB2005 on Tue Mar 08, 2011 11:53 am Reply with quote

Also i would not be laughing if Ambulances and the like had to rely* on paper maps rather than automated system that sends the GPS location to their sat nav...

* Emergency Services DO have contingency training for in the event of a short term failure of sat nav / computer systems. Not sure what the long term effects would be these days...


 
Posted by Darren on Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:14 pm Reply with quote

Quite. This has little to do with general public using satnavs but everything to do with supertankers that rely on GPS, and mobile phones, bank transacting systems and cashpoints, aviation (where GPS can now be used for approach phase of landing) and emergency services.

An outage could cause havoc of course but more worrying is an error in data that goes unnoticed. That could see a supertanker laden with natural gas wander off course by 1/2mile or more or a passenger airliner to miss the runway.

That is all too possible with the current technology and worryingly, whilst more and more reliance is placed on GPS and precision timing services, very little thought has been given to what we do if it were to disappear for however long.


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by Guivre46 on Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:55 pm Reply with quote

I was uncertain about the risk of jamming devices. I've since read another article that suggests a 'terrorist' could take one on board an aircraft or ship and take it off course, presumably with a view to wrecking it. Though planes are presumably tracked by ground stations as well as on-board systems.


Mike R [aka Wyvern46]
Go 530T - unsupported
Go550 Live [not renewed]
Kia In-dash Tomtom

 
Posted by Darren on Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:58 pm Reply with quote

More on the issue of GPS Jammers. CRFS, a UK company that monitors the radio spectrum claims it is regularly detecting the use of GPS jammers.

"We are detecting increasing use of jamming equipment as we monitor spectrum usage around the country." says David Cleevely, Chairman of CRFS, "[b]We need to monitor the use of this equipment so that we can detect and stop its use quickly".

"We regularly detect instances of GPS jammers in use as we monitor radio activity around the UK. The plot from one of our detectors shows one which we saw in use on the A4 near Kew Bridge", said Alistair Massarella, CEO of CRFS.


CRFS are proposing a network of monitors be installed in major urban centres to allow the monitoring of the use of these jamming devices.

It's interesting to hear about GPS jammers being detected in use here in the UK. Given they are illegal to use, and there is no honest reason to use one, it does seem particularly foolish that they can be sold legally. It would be far easier to enforce the law if the possession, sale, importation etc was outlawed.


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by pward on Tue Mar 08, 2011 4:03 pm Reply with quote

Darren Wrote:

An outage could cause havoc of course but more worrying is an error in data that goes unnoticed. That could see a supertanker laden with natural gas wander off course by 1/2mile or more or a passenger airliner to miss the runway.


Hmm...It's unlikely that a GPS error would lead to major problems in either the marine or aviation environments. Yes, GPS is used in both ships and aircraft but in both cases it is used in conjunction with other navigation equipment and not as the sole navigational tool. For one thing the civilian GPS signal isn't accurate enough by itself for use in landing an aircraft and augmentation needs to be used to improve accuracy.

Even if there was a GPS error, air traffic controllers would alert the pilot using their radar...


 
Posted by mikealder on Tue Mar 08, 2011 4:07 pm Reply with quote

I wonder if the next "report" issued by the experts will be claiming the European GPS system that is currently being worked up won't be as susceptible to jamming and therefore safer in use.......

The article on Sky News was even better:

"The academy's Professor Paul Cannon said a major "space weather event", where sun-flare activity would lead to disruption of satellite systems, had not taken place since 1859"

The planet Earth only had one satellite back in 1859 and its still visible with the naked eye most nights - Mike


 
Posted by Darren on Tue Mar 08, 2011 4:17 pm Reply with quote

I'm sure there is a level of scaremongering in this report but the Royal Academy isn't the mouthpiece of a commercial organisation and their concerns are entirely valid. The report has not been compiled as a sales tool for Galileo which is, after all, just as vulnerable to most if not all these issues.

Of course we could just pooh pooh the warnings and hope this never happens.

The report raises some interesting concerns, and there is a growing reliance on GNSS which is unregulated and unmonitored. Surely it's sensible to ask what provisions have been set in place to cater for an outage? I'm sure we'd all be complaining if the cashpoints or our mobiles stopped working?


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by Oldboy on Tue Mar 08, 2011 5:33 pm Reply with quote

Darren Wrote:
It's interesting to hear about GPS jammers being detected in use here in the UK. Given they are illegal to use, and there is no honest reason to use one, .....
I was talking to a works driver today, and we got on to the subject of GPS trackers fitted in company vehicles.

Apparently it's a growing practice, by some drivers, to use jammers to throw the trackers of the track, so to speak.


Richard

TT 910 V7.903 (9183/081205) OS:2344
Europe version 975.7689

 
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