Millions of satellite navigation devices set to fail

Andre' Kesteloot
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 11:53:40 -0400

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Millions of satellite navigation devices set to fail




ISSUE 1543Monday 16 August 1999

= =
3D" 3D" Millions of satellite navigation devices set to fail


3D">" 'End-= of-week' rollover for GPS [11 Aug '99] - US Coastguard Navigation Centre<= /b>
3D">" The G= PS week 1024 rollover - US Coastguard Navigation CentreImportant informatio= n for GPS users [11 Aug '99] - US Department of Transportation
3D">" Y2K and GPS week nu= mber rollover information pages - Trimble
&n= bsp;
3D">" YK2 and EOW rollover FAQ's= - Garmin
3D">" GPS= bug - Sustainable World
3D">" International Maritime Or= ganisation
3D">" Press rel= eases - Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions<= !-- lt -->

3D" MILLIONS of navigation devices around the wor= ld face the threat of failure at midnight next Saturday when a global sat= ellite network is hit by its own version of the Millennium bug. Experts are worried about the risk of accidents to light pl= anes and sailing boats.

Fear of the "end-of-week" bug has prompted government agencies in America= to alert pilots, sailors, as well as drivers, climbers, hikers and other= s who rely on the Global Positioning Satellite system. Warnings have also= been issued by the International Maritime Organisation and Ireland's min= ister of marine and natural resources.

C= lick to enlarge
= But in Britain, where such devices are common and where the Ministry of = Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will require all fishing vessels over 24 = metres long to carry GPS monitoring terminals from 2000, no official warn= ings have been issued. This is despite the fact that the bug could disabl= e systems and endanger life as planes and boats approach air and seaports= =2E

A spokesman at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regi= ons said: "It is an American system and people chose to buy into it, so i= t is their look-out." He said that the ministry had known about the probl= em for some time and was relying on "information filtering down to the ow= ners of private aircraft" and other amateur users from aeronautical infor= mation circulars.

He said: "There is the risk that for a short period equipment could be g= iving out wrong signals, but I understand that the equipment does right i= tself." He added that the department had "no obligation" to warn users. T= he US Defence Department, which runs the GPS network, or the Federal Avia= tion Authority was responsible.

The bug has arisen because the GPS system, a constellation of 24 satelli= tes around the globe, keeps track of time by counting the number of weeks= since it went into operation in 1980. The counter, which allows for abou= t 20 years' worth of weeks, computes up to 1,023. At midnight next Saturd= ay, week 1,023 ends and the counter rolls back to zero.

An American congressional sub-committee heard in May that, while militar= y, space and most commercial systems were well prepared, small businesses= and amateur users could be hard hit. Keith Rhodes, technical director in= the Office of the Chief Scientist, told the sub-committee: "The satellit= es will not fall out of the sky and will not lose their power. The proble= m will be on the ground, with what you hold in your hand."

Hand-held receivers such as those popular with mountaineers, sailors and= some motorists were "probably going to have a problem" if they were more= than five years old.

A notice issued by the United States transport department said: "Consumer= s who depend on GPS at sea, on land or in the air may experience one of t= hese problems with their receiver: it will be unable to locate the satell= ites, resulting in the receiver not working; it will take more time than = usual to locate the satellites; it will appear to be working but display = inaccurate positions, times or dates."

David Rowlands, a senior official at the British transport department, t= old a Commons select committee last November that receivers affected by t= he bug "would not generate false readings but would simply fail".

The Ministry of Defence said that it had completed all the necessary fix= es to its equipment. A spokesman said: "We will not have any problems. GP= S is used extensively, but as a complementary system. We have updated all= systems as necessary, including cruise missiles on submarines."

Civilian GPS receivers have been available for about 10 years and are ro= utinely built into cars, sailing boats, light aircraft and even London ta= xis. They cost as little as £100 and are now being incorporated in = watches and mobile telephones.

Each of the 24 satellites in the system carries an atomic clock from whi= ch it transmits a continuous time signal. By comparing the time signals f= rom at least three satellites, a receiver can use triangulation to work o= ut its position on Earth to an accuracy of 30ft. As with the Millennium b= ug, nobody knows exactly how far-reaching the consequences of the atomic = clocks resetting themselves to week zero will be to the navigation device= s.

John Lovell, director of quality for Trimble Navigation Ltd, the leading= maker of GPS devices, said that products bought in the past three to fiv= e years would not have any serious problems. He said: "There is a very sm= all chance of a navigational error, but not zero. Everyone should check w= ith the manufacturer to make sure."

Garmin and Magellan, two other leading makers of GPS equipment, have pos= ted information for their customers on their web sites. Garmin issued a w= arning that some of its older products might need "to perform an 'autoloc= ate' or 'search the sky' operation to acquire satellites and perform navi= gation functions after the GPS week number rollover occurs".

The company said also that its equipment could malfunction when used in = conjunction with other incompatible equipment, data or software, such as = electronic charts or auto-pilot systems. Magellan, which has sold more th= an a million receivers since 1989, has been testing all its current and d= iscontinued receivers, starting with the most recently released products.=

It described the task of testing more than 100 products as "an enormous = and an important one". With less than a week to go, only 51 of its produ= cts are listed on its web site as "end-of-week compliant". People with pr= oducts not judged to be compliant are advised to contact Magellan, which = will determine whether the product should be fixed or modified.

Nigel Waterson, the Tories' transport spokesman, condemned the Governmen= t for not taking a more active role in warning the public. He said: "It i= s potentially a very irresponsible attitude. We may be talking about the = safety of yachtsmen and other British users. Whatever the origins of the = satellite system, it is not something that ministers can wash their hands= of."

= 1 July 1999: [Connected] Travellers' delight at OS-GPS marriage
= 14 January 1999: [Connected] All at sea? Combination displays could help<= /a>
23 July 1998: [Connected] When all else fails, you can trust a star<= !-- lt -->


3D=Chechnya is put on alert as Russians hit rebels
3D"NextTories urged to disown Thatcher=
<= td valign=3Dtop>  

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