If the Air Force and its contractors don’t get their act together pretty quickly, in a couple of years your car’s navigation system may be giving you instructions like “In a mile or so, turn right” or “You have reached your destination, more or less.” The Air Force is responsible for maintaining and modernizing the network of satellites that provides GPS service, but according to a new Government Accountability Office report, technical problems, leadership lapses and contractor woes have combined to put things way behind schedule. “As a result,” said the report, “the current IIF satellite program has overrun its original cost estimate by about $870 million and the launch of its first satellite has been delayed to November 2009 — almost three years late.”
The problem is that the GPS system needs a constellation of at least 24 satellites to deliver complete coverage and accurate results, and some of the birds now flying have been up there almost 20 years. If they start to fail before replacements are up, GPS accuracy will start to deteriorate. As things stand, the report concluded, “it is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption. If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected.”
Bah! And just when I was getting to rely on it for getting to Norham Gardens.