Out in Front: Best Intentions

January 1, 2007  - By
Image: GPS World

The magazine has not carried much GLONASS news in recent months, yet we continue to cover Galileo with some assiduousness and we devoted several pages to Beidou in December. In all three cases, we find an absence of real news in the sense of verifiable happenings, satellite launches, new applications by users, or releases of products you can wrap your hands around.

No, in all three systems we have pronouncements, prognostications, and promises of satellites future. Ongoing deliberations, budget wrangling, internal disputes, delays, cost overruns, turf squabbles, and discussions postponed until the next round of meetings. Hmmm. These young upstarts sound remarkably akin to their older cousin, GPS.

Aha — but! GPS launched a satellite in November, and declared it operational for users on December 13. Not only a new satellite, a new kind of satellite, with new codes. That may not be news on the order of "man bites dog," but it is undeniably authentic, progressive, practical, and actually useful news you can use.

Why cover Galileo and Beidou, while devoting scant attention to GLONASS?

Well, Beidou is new, only very recently and suddenly being talked about as a truly global NSS. It is all talk at this point, but it’s fascinating talk, and comes from a region that has long held itself mysterious, aloof. Hard information is extremely difficult to come by. We’re reduced to scrutinizing the inscrutable, reading the tea leaves of government releases and newspaper stories within China, where the government controls the press. Even the analysts whom we canvass haven’t much better sources. So, play hard to get, you Beidou designers . . .

Galileo is completely another story. Or six or seven other stories. A soap opera, it keeps unfolding, plot-twisting, introducing new characters and controversies, and leaving you cliffhanging from one episode to the next. Politics play a very overt role, as 151 constituencies try to resolve issues to everyone’s satisfaction. While continuing — here’s the real trick — to move forward. That keeps us tuning in.

Meanwhile, Russia bravely carries on its own tradition, promising three new, longer-lived satellites by Christmas and 18 or 24 by 2008, an upgraded service freely available anywhere in the country and soon (or later) the world, a new Five-Year Plan better than the old Five-Year Plan, which went unattained. Not through lack of trying, but through lack of money, and a crumbling infrastructure. This may be lamentable and the new optimism estimable, but is it news? Can I use it?

The Kremlin has no lock on inflated goals and blue-sky promises. This desk receives plenty of that from industry. Yes! In this country! And others. Our intent is to filter that out, to deliver only that which may truly affect our readers.

News doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It requires people, and a demonstrable effect on those people, to become news.

This article is tagged with and posted in From the Magazine, Opinions