The Politics of GLONASS

Well, the good news is that former Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes GLONASS seriously. So much so that its slow implementation may have cost one of his deputy prime ministers the top job in Russia, according to a story in the Eurasia Daily Monitor. The full story is available, but in a nutshell, the man in charge of making GLONASS a self-sustained, fully operational constellation independent of the US GPS constellation failed to make promised deadlines. So, he’s out and his collegue, Dmitry Medvedev, is in.

For folks in the States, there’s another piece of good news — the Russians are serious about getting new satellites up in a hurry, meaning GLONASS-compatible receivers will get an increasing number of new signals to process.

I asked Mike Gomes at Topcon, which offers receivers that utilize the GLONASS satellites, about these interesting developments. He shared the following thoughts with me:

“This article focuses on using GLONASS as a stand-alone constellation for positioning,” says Gomes, “which few do today based upon the number of satellites available, as the article states. At Topcon we use GPS + GLONASS, effectively with the capability of 2 receivers in 1 to get the benefits of using all available birds in the sky. This provides an advantage, especially when using RTK in difficult conditions such as around trees, in topography of varying elevation or in Northern latitudes. This article has a bit of a political slant in that it is trying to paint the inability of GLONASS as a stand-alone solution as a Putin failure.”

Mike adds that Russia is committed to quick implementation, sending satellites up at a rate of three per year for the past three years and six committed to go up in 2008. “As you can see, Russia is allocating resources and manpower as a national priority to get GLONASS up as a stand-alone constellation,” notes Gomes. “Our idea of positioning is to use all available satellites as they continue to be developed, reducing dependence on any one constellation or one country’s efforts for a particular positioning solution. GPS and GLONASS satellites are available today, so you should be able to use them.”

Well, we’ll keep an eye on the technological — as well as the political — effects of the ongoing GLONASS saga …

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