New GPS civilian signals to cost as much as $700 million

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—- A White House announcement last week to improve the accuracy and reliability of the Global Positioning System by adding two new civilian signals could end up costing as much as $700 million—- a bill that civilian agencies will have to pay, according to a source familiar with the proposed systems architectures.

Joe Canny, chairman of the Transportation Department's Civil GPS Service Interface Committee (CGSIC), said his agency signed an agreement with the Defense Department to provide the funding needed to add a second and third civilian signal, which Vice President Al Gore promised last week but declined to provide a cost estimate.

Canny, speaking at a CGSIC meeting here, said the government could have paid just $28 million to Boeing North American Inc., the prime contractor building more than 20 GPS satellites that will be launched after the millennium, to add new signals to those satellites. But because it took DOT and DOD so long to reach the agreement to add the new signals, the option had lapsed.

A source familiar with the proposed system estimated that adding the new signals would cost "anywhere from $90 million to $700 million," depending on the ultimate system configuration. The high end, this source added, would cover the addition of the new civilian signal package and the increase in the number of satellites—- from 24 to 30—- that make up the GPS constellation satellites, and "you would need some spares, so that means you would need 32 satellites.''

The higher estimate also includes changes the Air Force would have to make to its GPS master control station at Falcon Air Force Base, Colo., as well as the cost of the additional rockets needed to launch the extra satellites.

A number of civilian agencies already use GPS, which provides highly accurate position and navigation signals by a process of triangulation with satellites. The agencies have pushed hard for the new civilian signals to support such uses as aerial and maritime navigation, positive train control, surveying and earthquake fault monitoring. But Mike Shaw, the assistant for GPS in the Pentagon's Office of the Undersecretary for Space, said these improvements "cost money...and DOT has agreed to orchestrate that."

Canny said DOT does not want to end up in the position of going "hat in hand'' to civilian agencies for funding, nor does it desire a GPS budget that would require submission to 13 congressional appropriations committees. Therefore, the agency has decided to put together a coordinated approach to funding, with the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreeing to chair a CGSIC funding subcommittee.

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