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Galileo Conspiracy Theory

September 15, 2014  - By

PLUS: Flying for GPS Book Review

Do you know any conspiracy theorists? You know, those folks who I am sure are well meaning, but see a conspiracy behind every event? Think Mel Gibson in the great 1997 movie with the very imaginative title Conspiracy Theory. Well, the conspiracy theorists have been coming out of the woods following the Galileo launch fiasco, and they are blaming both the Russians and European Space Agency for allowing the Russians the capability to effectively render useless what should have been the first two operational Galileo PNT satellites.

Think about it. The European Union spends more than 17 years gearing up for a launch of the first two operational Galileo satellites, and they leave the final orbit determination to equipment from a country (Russia) that their countries, and the United States, are collectively (European Union) currently sanctioning for numerous treaty and humanitarian violations.

Who knows? Maybe this was all just a big mistake, and there were no overt actions taken by Russia to place the two Galileo satellites in the wrong orbit. Frankly, I have no idea if the final stage was sabotaged or not, but it makes for an interesting theory and gedankenexperiment. It also should serve as a warning to the U.S. government, especially the USAF when it comes to utilizing the remaining Russian rocket engines we have in stock.

I have been to the location where the handover of the Russian rocket motors takes place. The motors are delivered by the Russians and accepted by USAF and United Launch Alliance officials. Then, I have been assured, that the engines are gone over with a fine-tooth comb. Hopefully, there is no opportunity for a motor that has been tampered with passing our inspections, validations and launch certifications. Still, there is always that niggling worry in the back of your mind that won’t go away. So, even if the conspiracy theorists are all wet, and I hope they are, the whole Galileo launch fiasco should still serve as a warning to our National Military Space (NMS) acquisition and launch certification officials. A little extra scrutiny of Russian-manufactured space equipment might be in order.

Of course, there does not have to be a conspiracy. It could be just bad luck or poor workmanship. It is public knowledge that the Russians have had numerous launch and space-equipment failures in recent months, while the U.S. has had more than 115 consecutive NMS launches without a single failure. Indeed, there has not been a single NMS launch failure since the Broad Area Review (BAR) in the late ’90s.

There have been two additional follow-on BARs since and they all recommended greater situational awareness and attention to detail. So maybe the Russians just need a good BAR — pun intended. At any rate we should know in the next few months as there are no fewer than three separate European investigations being conducted as I write this. Let’s hope the conspiracy theorists are all just crying wolf.

Flying for GPS Book Review

Flying-for-GPS-JacobsonThis is the title of a new book by an old friend and colleague, Len Jacobson. This is Len’s second full-length book, as he writes copious articles (many for GPS World) and chapters of books for other writers. In my opinion, this is the better of his two books, although the first book was much more technical in nature. It sits on my GPS bookshelf and I refer to it frequently. So maybe this one is just a better read.

When Len’s autographed book arrived, I dove into it and immediately discovered it is as much about Len and his life before and since GPS (BCEGPS and ADGPS if you will) as it is about the Global Positioning System per se. This is certainly not a criticism, merely an observation, since the personal touch makes this book come alive.

Seriously, this book is an unabashed personal history, a travelogue and a history of the GPS program all rolled into one, and although Len cautions readers to only read Part Two if they only want to know about GPS, I maintain that you will miss a great read if you go that route.

Len Jacobson

Len Jacobson

As I said, I have know Len since about 1975 ,and even though we have known each other for 39 years I had no idea of all the qualifications Len brought to GPS and how his life, after 1975, has revolved around this singular military weapons system.

The book is a tour de force for GPS, but also is about an engineer coming of age in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. Len describes the technology and communications capabilities and programs that made GPS possible. But more than that, he also goes into the personalities, and this may be the highlight of the book for many. He names names when possible, and obscures them when circumstances, personal preferences and legal precedents demand it. Still, most of the time ,if you were around in the halcyon days of Parkinson and Getting, then you know exactly who Len is describing. And even if you don’t know, it is fun to guess.

Len gives some painful insights to the birth pains that GPS experienced — to include the early rejections by both the military and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And his description of the whole Selective Availability saga sheds new light for me on just what took place, and I was there.

Throughout the book, Len describes his life and key roles in self-deprecating terms, and yet acknowledges he was known far and wide. I can personally attest to this, as a GPS proselytizer. There is another word I could use, but since this is a family magazine I will forego the opportunity. Let’s just say that if Len was in the room, you knew you were going to hear about or talk about the latest in GPS technology.

Some of you might describe parts of the book as esoteric trivia concerning GPS, and while that may be true, Len presents it in such a way that you want to file that bit of trivia away for a rainy day and then spring it on your PNT colleagues when they least expect it. For instance, I found it very compelling when Len describes on page 95 the history of the Chinese BeiDou program. I think you will be surprised. I was.

And in the end, many of the companies that Len worked for over the years no longer exist today, such as Figgie, but fortunately many of the people are still around. And Len doesn’t pull any punches. He relates stories of business intrigue, intransigence and even bigotry. He even manages to include the Lacy Peterson murder investigation.

I hope I have piqued your interest, because this is a unique book that everyone who is evenly remotely interested in the history of GPS and PNT in general should read. Highly recommended. Read a quick excerpt from this unique GPS tome on the GPS World website if you have the time.

Happy navigating!

Don Jewell


Until next time happy navigating and remember GPS is brought to you free of charge by the United States Air Force. Aim High!




This article is tagged with , and posted in Defense, Opinions

About the Author:

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.

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