There’s More To GPS Than Dashboard Toys

Updating the GPS satellite constellation takes next step
Posted:September 25,2006

One year to the day after the Global Positioning System constellation began a modernization effort to improve the accuracy of the navigation network,the next step in that upgrade blasted into space from Cape Canaveral,Florida…. read a lot more here,great write up.

So when someone says GPS,what do you think of? A little $89 toy from Cabella’s that helps you find last year’s fishing whole? A colorful little mapping screen on your car’s dash with a mechanical voice screeching "turn Right Now"just after you passed the turn? Or are you more like an intellectual acquaintance of mine who is so in love with his own education that he thinks low-life’s like Air Force enlisted troops don’t have much on the ball?

Well’s here’s what GPS is really all about:

Launching real satellites into space. I say real because these aren’t tinker toys like NASA’s shuttle that breaks every time the moon changes phase and falls apart in mid-flight …I’m talking about birds that have been launched and launched and have had but one failure in 20 years.

The current satellites are built by Lockheed-Martin and they ride a Delta booster,as dependable as a Boeing 747,and co-incidentally,also built by Boeing.

In the white cone you see on top of the Delta in the photo is a Block 2R bird. Military hardware is often built in "blocks",denoting major manufacturing improvements being made to the same basic airframe. So the GPS birds are only in their second major rework,with the little R in the name standing for "Replacement" I guess you could call this Block 2 and 1/2’s"if you wanted to. 

 If you read the article I’ve linked to you’ll see some of the praise that senior leadership has for the fellows and gals who "fly"these space machines out there on the barren plains east of Colorado Springs.

All the birds have lasted way past their design life,some an astounding amount of time. The reasons I’m sure are many,the design is good,the workmanship in manufacturing has been great and there’s been a little good luck too,but a heck of a lot of credit goes to these folks,many of them just ordinary "blue collar"kind of people like me who don’t just sit out there and watch dots fly past in the sky. They fine tune each spacecraft continuously. They have a program that continually restores the batteries which is one of the most critical reasons the birds last as long as they do. And when you read in the news or in official specifications how the accuracy of the standard GPS navigation signal is 15 meters,don’t you believe for a minute these folks sit back and accept "working up to standards"as good enough. When each active bird comes over the horizon for the South West Asia area,each and every bird has been updated to produce standard accuracies down to just a meter or two,day in,day your,twice a day,ti9mes 29 or more birds.

On Thanksgiving day when you’re bloated from turkey,on Christmas morning when your kids are opening presents,on Super Bowl Sunday when you’re stuffed with beer and chips,just remember the folks out on South Enoch Road making space systems look easy

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