Could we live without GPS?
The system has become a part of our everyday lives and is essential for drivers and pedestrians, but… do we really know how it works and what would happen if it suddenly stopped working?
What is it and how does it work?
GPS was originally developed and used by the U.S. Department of Defense. Later, its use would spread to the rest of society. The system operates thanks to 24 satellites distributed over six orbits at a height of 20,000 kilometers.
Each one sends radio signals to our planet with information about their position, which we receive on our smartphones and navigators. It analyzes our coordinates with accuracy: latitude, longitude, and altitude.
The Galileo Method
In addition to GPS, there are other satellite systems such as the Russian Glonass and one that is being developed by the European Union, the Galileo, which will have 30 satellites in orbit and will operate in 2020, will be distributed on three planes separated by 120 º of length and at more than 23,000 kilometers high.
When operational, it will offer an open signal, Open Service, at a lower resolution, another Commercial Service option with better resolution, and an encrypted, Public Service, to which only governments will have access.
What would happen if they stopped working?
It is virtually impossible for them to be hacked to where they cease to be operational. However, a solar geomagnetic storm could affect its proper functioning.
According to NASA, solar storms are on the rise and could cause global chaos that would change the orbit of the satellites. They might emit false signals, cause problems in voice, data and video services, endanger astronauts, alter television signals, or disable our phones.
What is GPS used for?
As GPS is increasingly used in navigation, exploration, and transport in civil, military, land, air, and sea settings… a glitch in GPS satellites could seriously affect a commercial airliner, something extremely dangerous.
At present, the technology is also used in the field of safety, for example, when locating people who have been injured or disappeared during natural disasters, in the conservation of the environment, following up on endangered fauna or flora species in the fields of topography and cartography.
How do we solve the problems satellites might suffer?
Navigation satellite systems are built with resilient materials in order to cope with a possible solar storm. In addition, solar activity is being constantly analyzed, so these devices have the ability to take preventive measures.
The most well known solar storm happened in March 1989. Several satellites had to be redirected and some were out of control for hours.