Russian Global Navigation System, GLONASS, Falling Short

The GLONASS system's accuracy, reliability, and consumer appeal are in question

5 min read

14 February 2008—Earlier this month, Russia activated its latest set of GLONASS satellites, a homegrown competitor to GPS. The government says that with the new satellites, the country’s global navigation system officially covers 95 percent of the country and 83 percent of the world—although independent experts put the real figures closer to 70 percent and 50 to 60 percent, respectively. Six more satellites are scheduled for launch at the end of this year. But all is not well with the Russian global navigation system.

GLONASS has come under stunning attack by none other than Russia’s first vice premier, Sergey Ivanov. Late in January, after issuing positive assurances for months, he suddenly declared that the system was inadequate and that those in charge had to pay. His complaints are that there are too few receivers available to consumers, that the accuracy is poor compared to that of GPS, that digital maps of sufficient detail and accuracy to match the GLONASS signal don’t exist, and that the in-orbit lifetime of individual satellites is so brief that their replacement rate is beyond the capability of the Russian rocket industry.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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