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World's GPS to get faster, as US begins upgrade

world Updated: May 24, 2010 13:29 IST
Global Positioning System

The world's GPS, or Global Positioning System, is getting a major upgrade which will enable it to pinpoint targets within an arm's length, compared with a margin of error of 20 feet or more now.

The system which guides ATM and Wall Street to time-stamp transactions, US drones to target Taliban hideouts, courier companies to track shipments, and ordinary people to find their missing pets, is getting an $8-billion upgrade at Los Angeles Air Base at El Segundo near Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It was at this air base that Bradford W Parkinson and his team developed the world's current GPS three decades ago.

Like the Internet, the GPS worldwide is also controlled by the US (the Pentagon), though Russia and China are trying to build their own GPS.

The $8-billion upgrade will make the GPS more reliable, more widespread and much more accurate. The new system will be able pinpoint someone's location within an arm's length, compared with a margin of error of 20 feet or more today.

According to the report, the 24 satellites that make up the current GPS system will be replaced, beginning with the first replacement scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral this weekend.

Since accidental jamming of the current GPS has led to power outages, disruption of mobile services and disruption of emergency services in the US, the upgrade will prevent future disruptions by increasing the number of signals beamed to earth from satellites that orbit 12,000 miles above.

The new satellites will also triple the amount of signals available for commercial use and will have atomic clocks that are even more precise - keeping time to a fraction of a billionth of a second.

Because of this (clock) technology, the GPS has become a crucial timekeeper for the financial industry as transactions - made from ATMs to Wall Street stock trades - are time-stamped using precise atomic clocks ticking within the GPS satellites. It's a crucial technology for Wall Street, where a fraction of a second could mean billions of dollars, the report said.

The GPS has become "a ubiquitous utility that everybody takes for granted now," Bradford W Parkinson, who as an air force colonel three decades ago led a Pentagon team to developed GPS, told the newspaper.

"GPS has truly become the lighthouse of the world. It's just remarkable how the system has evolved over the past 30 years. It'll be just as interesting to see what will come in the next 30," said the father of the GPS.