GPS scare story shot out of the sky

So to speak…

You may have seen it on the Guardian’s website (a British newspaper) and Drudge ran with it a while later, about how the entire system of Global Positioning Satellites was in disrepair and on the verge of failure. Turns out, at least according to the sources we’ve talked to, it’s all bunk.

According to Mark Contino, vice president of survey for Topcon Positioning Systems, “The U.S-based GPS system is vital to the government, the military and the private sector and there is no chance of it being allowed to fail. The report was grossly overstated and reached a conclusion that simply is not borne out by facts.”

We got a similar response from sources that do business with the airline industry.  If you read the news Guardian story carefully you’ll notice they only refer to the U.S. based GPS satellite system run by the Air Force. No mention is made of the Russian GLONASS system or the coming European Union Galileo system.

“Topcon was the first company to develop technology that allows the use of signals from every available satellite signal today — GPS and the Russian GLONASS system — and other systems being tested,” Contino says. “”It was not long ago that fatalists were predicting the demise of the GLONASS system. But it is healthy, hardy and growing.” Contino added that a new GPS signal, the L5, has been put into play just this year and is tracking perfectly.

Typically when you see a story like this you can attribute it to one of two things. Either the reporter or editor knew they had a dull and incomplete story on their hands and decided to tart it up with a scary headline, or you had some disgruntled government middle management type planting scare stories in the media to trump up support for a budget increase. Happens all the time.