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1998-04-20 21:51:59


GPS and a Hint of a Looming Disaster



The United States Naval Observatory (USNO) has a responsibility to tell us what time it is, down to one ten-billionth of a second. The world's institutions have relied on the Navy for this information. Telecommunications networks are dependent on this information. We read on the Navy's site:

"The U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) is charged with the responsibility for precise time determination and management of time dissemination . Modern electronic systems, such as electronic navigation or communications systems, depend increasingly on precise time and time interval (PTTI). Examples would be the ground-based LORAN-C navigation system and the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS). These systems are based on the travel time of the electromagnetic signals: an accuracy of 10 nanoseconds (10 one billionths of a second) corresponds to a position accuracy of 10 feet. In fast communications, time synchronization is equally important. All of these official systems are referenced to the USNO master clock.

"Thus, the USNO must maintain and continually improve its clock system so that it can stay one step ahead of the demands made on its accuracy, stability, and reliability."

On August 22, 1999, the Global Positioning System of 24 satellites will lose 1,024 weeks. All software dependent on the GPS must be rewritten. The Navy has transferred this responsibility to the users.

No one is asking the telecomucations industry: (1) To what extent are your time-based systems dependent on the GPS? (2) Has your software been rewritten and tested to meet the GPS rollback? (3) If the software isn't fixed, how long after the rollback can your systems continue to function? Weeks? Days? Hours?

If y2k hasn't been fixed, we should assume that the GPS software hasn't been, either.


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