GPS Support Centers Team Up

WASHINGTON (04/10/2000) - Military and civilian users of the Global Positioning System can now visit a single online support center to check the status of the 28-satellite system, request help with the system and report interference problems.

The U.S. Space Command is taking the lead in creating the Joint GPS User Support Center, a World Wide Web site that consolidates GPS-related information from several agencies. Federal agencies began to explore ways to centralize GPS operational information after civil users of GPS expressed concern last year when they were not given advance notice of Defense Department GPS signal tests that restricted service in certain regions. GPS provides accurate positioning and timing information to receivers on the ground, in the air or in space. "To find out what was going on with GPS, we went to a number of different sources," said Mike Shaw, senior team leader on the Transportation Department's radionavigation and positioning staff. The joint center is not a replacement for those sources but rather a consolidated data center, he said.

To build the center, Spacecom is integrating three key GPS support operations:

The databases and support provided by its own GPS support center for military users.

The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center's Navigation Information Service.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Spectrum Management and National Operations Control Center.

The Joint GPS User Support Center will help civil and military users report problems and get data from a single point of contact, said Hank Skalski, DOT liaison at the U.S. Air Force Space Command, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Skalski spoke at a March 28 meeting of the Coast Guard-sponsored Civil GPS Service Interface Committee in Fairfax, Virginia.

"We're talking about optimizing what we have today -- bringing the resources together," he said. "Different groups have different jobs. We're not changing the jobs. We're just looking for a more efficient way to do the job."

The joint center also is building a GPS User Advisory and Reference Database that will bring together space weather data and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory International GPS Service data in addition to the other three sources of information, Skalski said. Although most of the systems are compatible, the complicated part will be dealing with portions of DOD databases that are classified, he said. Another challenge, Skalski said, is figuring out the best way to disseminate the data -- which is used to ensure the safety of aviators and mariners, to maintain the critical infrastructure protection of systems that rely on GPS and to support service providers such as the telecommunications industry that use GPS for precision call hand-offs.

To accomplish that, the GPS Interagency Notification Team was formed in March to identify the GPS user base, determine user needs, rank priorities and develop an information dissemination process, he said. That work also will be extended to international users of the global system. Currently, the different GPS support centers carry out a variety of tasks:

DOD's GPS support center provides continuous monitoring of the GPS constellation operated by DOD. It also provides users with information about what satellites are visible, satellites' accuracy and future performance predictions.

The FAA provides a notice to pilots about disruptions to the GPS signal, performance data about GPS augmentation systems used for aviation, spectrum protection information, interference mitigation and GPS test coordination.

The Coast Guard's Navigation Information Service also provides the notice to pilots and gathers, processes and disseminates data about GPS, Differential GPS and ground-based navigational aid Loran-C. The Coast Guard maintains a 24-hour telephone watch, Internet Web and FTP sites, an e-mail response system, an e-mail listserv, online forms and a document database. The Coast Guard also wants to implement a forum for online discussion of GPS issues, said Lt.

Cornell Thompson, chief of the Navigation Information Service.

Although it is not a top priority, Skalski said he hopes to consolidate all the GPS Web sites maintained by the government. "Why are there half a dozen or more government GPS sites?" he asked. By reducing the redundancy, it will be clear to users where to turn for GPS information as well as save the government money on Web service time and personnel to operate the sites, he said.

One GPS, Many Sites

One of the goals of the Joint GPS User Support Center is to consolidate the many GPS Web sites maintained by different U.S. government organizations so that users have a single contact point for information about the status of the Global Positioning System. Below is a partial list of current GPS sites, starting with the site that is serving as the current home of the joint effort.

U.S. Space Command GPS Support Center:

U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center: FAA GPS Product Team: Interagency GPS Executive Board: Navstar GPS Joint Program Office: GPS Interagency Advisory Council: 50th Space Wing GPS Fact Sheet: index.htm International GPS Service:

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