Russia Joins U.S., EU in GPS Race

Here's more GPS news.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to make signals from Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass) free to anyone in the world, according to a report by Novosti, the Russian Information Agency.

Anatoly Perini, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, told Novosti that Glonass signals will be compatible with the U.S. GPS system and Galileo, the satellite navigation system planned by the European Union.

Glonass, like GPS, is based on a 24 satellite architecture, and Fernando Echavarria, who works for the Space and Advanced Technology office at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs said in a presentation at the Space Technology Workshop in Rabat, Morocco, last month that the United States and Russia are working on interoperability between GPS and Glonass. The two systems would be available to civilian users, as well.

The EU had planned to charge for highly precise signals broadcast by its planned 30-satellite Galileo constellation, but that plan foundered last week due in part to the free signals available from GPS. Putin’s announcement â€" made the same day as the EU and Russia concluded a testy summit, appears as a way for Russia to tout its technological prowess and allay any suspicions of technological inferiority created by its decade-long struggle to make Glonass a reality.

But Glonass has it own set of problems, Novosti reported last month. "The Russian mission control center said only 12 out of the 19 Glonass satellites now in orbit are currently operating," the news agency reported. "Four more satellites now orbiting the Earth may be commissioned in the future, enlarging the Glonass cluster to 16 spacecraft.”

But some of the operating satellites are "obsolete" and "may stop functioning by late 2008," Novosti reported. "In this case, Russia will have to launch 17 new satellites by the end of 2009. And working out the required launch schedule would be a mind-boggling task. “

The "GPS Race" may just be heating up.