Lockheed Martin plans $2B satellite system

Lockheed Martin Corp. plans to spend $2 billion on a worldwide satellite system designed to complement the Global Positioning System and other systems designed to ensure the integrity and availability of GPS signals for air navigation such as the Federal Aviation Administration's new GPS-based navigation augmentation system and similar systems planned in Japan and Europe.

Lockheed Martin said its planned Regional Positioning System (RPS) will provide accurate, reliable navigation that will be available to aviation users and others worldwide. The system will be made up of a 12-satellite constellation that will transmit navigation signals in the L-band used by GPS. Lockheed Martin said annual lease payments by the FAA and other civilian aviation bodies worldwide would cover the service charges for RPS.

The company, in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission seeking orbital slots, said aircraft receivers designed to receive GPS signals will be able to pick up the signals transmitted by the RPS satellites. The FAA's Wide-Area Augmentation System (WAAS), a $3 billion navigation system the FAA is developing that will enable pilots to rely on GPS signals to navigate across the country and to execute landings, also will be able to rely on the RPS signals.

GPS and augmentation systems such as WAAS make up the planned future Global Navigation Satellite System architecture, and Lockheed Martin officials said that with the addition of RPS, "the GNSS system will provide the navigation accuracy, availability and integrity capabilities needed for civil en route [aerial] navigation through...precision approach.''

Fred Bay, chief architect of RPS, described the system as a "space segment designed to complement WAAS," adding that RPS also will enable civilian aerial navigation with only 24 satellites in the GPS constellation, not the 30 envisioned in a recent study of WAAS and GPS. The Johns Hopkins University study concluded that the FAA would need at least 30 satellites to provide the accuracy needed for civilian navigation, even with the addition of WAAS.

An FAA spokeswoman said the agency "neither opposes, nor endorses the Lockheed Martin system." But Bay said that while the FAA statement is accurate, it does not reflect behind-the-scenes discussions between his company and the FAA. The FAA, Bay said, "is not in a position to decide if RPS meets their needs until the investment analysis team completes its study." The team, which is examining the cost and benefits of relying on the long-delayed and overbudget WAAS in combination with GPS vs. a land-based navigation system, is due to release its report in mid-September.

Although Bay described RPS as a global system designed to work with WAAS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System and the Japanese Multifunction Transportation Satellite Augmentation System, the company has decided to focus on North America and South America first, although it has contacted the Japanese Civil Aeronautics Board and Eurocontrol in Europe.

Bay added that if the FAA cancels WAAS, then Lockheed Martin will shelve its RPS plans. Bay said he doubts that will happen, adding that he expects competition from other companies intending to build a system similar to RPS. He declined to identify those potential competitors.

The European Union recently approved $40.4 million in initial financing for its $2.9 billion GPS-like "Galileo" system, which aviation and navigation consultants say will provide more points of reference in space to help ensure the safety of aerial navigation.

Galileo "will obviously increase the number of satellites and consequently bring about an increase in availability and integrity," according to Vic Strachan, director of strategic development for Litton Aero Products, a division of Litton Industries Inc. that manufactures aerial navigation equipment.

Strachan said that depending on whether the United States proceeds with the addition of extra civilian signals to GPS and proceeds with plans to turn off intentional degradation of the current civilian signals by the Defense Department, "the combination of Galileo and WAAS will probably provide solid navigation down through nonprecision approach worldwide without any need for WAAS."

But neither Galileo or WAAS will provide the GPS satellite integrity information—a constant check on whether a particular satellite in the constellation is on, off, healthy or unhealthy, which is essential to pilots of fast-moving aircraft in

a landing pattern—nor will it provide the differential-type signals that are needed to make a precision approach when landing.

Richard Langley, professor of geodesy at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, and a GPS expert, agreed that while Galileo and RPS will provide additional points of reference that will enhance navigation accuracy, neither system will provide the integrity of information provided by WAAS and the planned European and Japanese augmentation systems.

John Beukers, a navigation consultant based in England, said the EU's decision to proceed with Galileo is a "very political issue and a sovereignty issue" reflecting concerns by the 15 member states of the EU in reliance on a navigation system controlled by the U.S. DOD. A spokeswoman for EU Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock addressed those concerns by describing Galileo as "a state-of-the-art global navigation system that for the first time will have a civil priority.''

Last week, the EU took the first step toward resolving the antagonisms between the EU and the United States over competing GPS-type systems when the European Commission requested authorization from its Council of Ministers to negotiate agreements with the United States and the Russian Federation—which also operates a GPS-like system—to jointly develop the next generation of satellite navigation systems. These negotiations will seek to ensure that Galileo is compatible with GPS and the Russian system, and "the collaboration will ensure that the Galileo project...could become the industry standard for the 21st century,'' the commission said in a statement.

-- Elizabeth DeBony of the IDG News Service contributed to this article from Brussels, Belgium.

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