News Item

No GLONASS monitors in US?

The US seems likely to bar Russia from siting GLONASS monitor stations on American soil.

Inserted into the US Defence Budget Bill, signed into law on 26 December, is a measure that virtually bars Russia from placing about 6 monitor stations in US territory - apparently for fear that Moscow would use them for spying.

Russia broached the idea of installing the monitors nearly 2 years ago, explaining that they would significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of its GNSS. Widely dispersed monitors are used, or proposed, by all satellite navigation providers - they aid the accurate tracking of the spacecraft, leading in turn to more accurate navigation for end users.

But the installations have become a political football. The State Department supported the proposal as a means to mend 'bruised relations' between Russia and the US. But some members of Congress harboured suspicions that Russia had nefarious motives behind the plan, and these doubts were supported by the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency - they were concerned about handing the Russians an 'opening to snoop on the US within its borders'.

Under the new law, unless the Defence Secretary and the Director of National Intelligence certify to Congress that the monitor stations would not be used to spy on the US or improve the effectiveness of Russian weaponry - or unless they waive that requirement altogether on national security grounds - the plan is reported to be dead.

Administration officials have sought to play down the significance of the new constraints, saying that discussions with the Russians continue, but no decisions have been reached.

The former Director of the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology commented:
'There isn’t any question that their system would be more accurate and reliable if they had some stations somewhere in the northern half of the western hemisphere - the more stations you have, the more corrections you can make, and the more reliable the system you have.'

He concluded that there is a significant argument in favour of going the extra mile to accommodate what the Russians feel are their needs, because it would improve all systems amid demands from consumers for more accurate GNSS.

As many GNSS receivers now use both GPS and GLONASS signals - and in the future will use the other upcoming GNSS constellations - it would benefit everyone if all GNSS providers were able to monitor their signals on a global scale.

Details from The New York Times below.

  • 31 December 2013
  • Space

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