For decades, the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation has reigned supreme as the world’s go-to navigation tool — guiding everything from aircraft carriers to Uber drivers.

But GPS is susceptible to jamming and spoofing. Malicious actors can deliberately disrupt or manipulate the signals, leading to inaccurate or misleading positioning information.

These vulnerabilities endanger critical infrastructure, emergency response and military operations, prompting increased interest in alternative PNT, or positioning, navigation and timing technologies that do not depend on GPS.

While the Pentagon has long pursued augmented GPS capabilities, including using allied backup systems, it is now scoping a burgeoning commercial market promising innovative options to reduce GPS dependence.

In response to the military’s call for PNT alternatives, companies are lining up with offerings to fill gaps if GPS ever goes dark. These range from terrestrial networks that leverage existing cellular infrastructure to new constellations of low-orbiting small satellites broadcasting PNT signals.

Global reliance on GPS

The Global Positioning System was conceived in 1973 out of a Pentagon effort to develop precision navigation and timing for military operations. But over the decades, this once-obscure space technology spilled over into civilian applications, becoming integral infrastructure enabling the modern global economy.

After the first test satellite launched in 1978, GPS crept into broader usage across land, sea and air forces, enabling precision guidance of military systems. The accuracy of the signals available to civilian users were deliberately degraded.

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