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Professors That Make a Difference

November 12, 2014  - By

 Being First

Despite being an avowed Anglophile since my first visit to the United Kingdom, somewhere around 50+ years ago, I just could not help myself. Professor David Last, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wales (Bangor) and former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) was holding forth, with that wonderful, attention-arresting public school accent, on weighty PNT (position, navigation and timing) matters before an awestruck audience.

Professor Emeritus David Last.

Professor Emeritus David Last.

And what did I do? I just could not stop myself reminding him and everyone within earshot that the American Institute of Navigation (ION) predated the British Royal Institute of Navigation by more than two years. The point being, of course, that while two years actually makes little difference in the scheme of things, actuarially speaking we yanks rarely have the opportunity to make such a claim where our stiff upper-lipped Red Coat cousins are concerned. So, when the opportunity presents itself, as it typically does at ION GNSS+, then in my opinion, we former colonists just have to jump in with both feet — or one if by land and two if by sea, and all that.

An even more compelling argument for being first revolves around GPS versus Galileo operational satellites. The first GPS operational launch occurred in 1978, while Galileo has yet to launch a non-R&D operational PNT satellite, into a useable orbit that is. Now, before you accuse me of being smug, I am actually making a case for increased cooperation between the United States Air Force (USAF) and our European counterparts (ESA) where precision positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) schemes are concerned. For when it comes to satellite navigation and PNT, we yanks can definitely declare “been there, done that” mistakes and successes. What better place to “crow,” or rather, impart our considerable knowledge and network with fellow PNT aficionados, than at ION GNSS+.

ION GNSS+

All vocal eloquence jealousies and juvenile kidding aside, in many respects the ION GNSS+ event is actually the epitome of international cooperation in the PNT and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) arena. This annual premiere event is described as “the world’s largest technical meeting and showcase of GNSS technology, products and services,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, the 2014 event, which took place from September 8-12 at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, had the stated goal of bringing together international leaders in GNSS and related positioning, navigation and timing fields to present new research, introduce new technologies, discuss current policy, demonstrate products and exchange ideas. It was a networking paradise in a wonderful, albeit somewhat steamy, venue, which you can review in two excellent videos concerning the event at the ION website.

This ION conference improves every year in content and attendance, and this year was no exception. Congratulations to Lisa Beaty and her whole team for a great conference, year after year. My favorite events are the annual GPS World Leadership Dinner and the prestigious annual ION Kepler award luncheon. Notice a trend?

GPS World Leadership Dinner

This much ballyhooed event becomes more and more of a draw each year. Tickets are coveted (as scare as hen’s teeth as Granny used to say) and competition is fierce. Every year we have about twice as many people wanting to attend as we have room to accommodate them. So the competition is never boring. This year was special in that one of our own GPS editors was nominated for an award and was overwhelmingly elected to receive it.

The Leadership Award winners this year were Javier Benedicto Ruiz, the Galileo Project Manager from the European Space Agency (ESA), who won in the Satellites category, while an old friend Sherman Lo, who is a senior research engineer and associate investigator (APNT) at Stanford University, won in the Signals category. Our own Eric Gakstatter, contributing editor for Survey and GIS from GPS World, won in the Services category; and finally Oliver Montenbruck, who is head of the GNSS Technology and Navigation Group, from DLR, the German Space Operations Center, won in the Products category.

The 2014 leadership awards, determined by a poll of 40 industry professionals, await the start of the ceremony.

GPS World 2014 Leadership Trophies.

The invited guests, and there was not an empty seat in the house, heard various perspectives from sponsors Lockheed Martin, Exelis, Raytheon, and Braxton Technologies, as well as visions of GNSS progress from our four award winners.

This event will be covered in much more depth in our December issue, but suffice it to say it was as usual a great event. I wonder from year to year how we will ever top the previous year’s entertainment, which always involves audience participation, but Alan Cameron just keeps coming up with outrageous ideas that seem to always pan out. Hope to see you there in Tampa next year.

The Kepler Award

This year, the highly prestigious ION Kepler Award was won by Dr. Pratap Misra. Even though I am happy to say that through the years many of my friends and colleagues have won this coveted award, I can honestly say, in my opinion, there has never been a more deserving award winner than Professor Pratap Misra.


[Correction: The newsletter summary of this article misspells Pratap Misra’s name. We apologize for the error.—Editors]


Pratap Misra, 2014 Kepler Award recipient.

Pratap Misra, 2014 Kepler Award recipient.

I have had the good fortune to know Professor Misra for many years, and frankly erroneously assumed, along with many others, that since he is so obviously deserving he had previously won the Kepler Award.

The Kepler Award is presented annually by ION in recognition of an individual’s unparalleled, sustained and significant contributions to the development of satellite navigation. It is the highest honor bestowed by ION’s Satellite Division. Professor Pratap from Tufts University meets and exceeds all of these qualifiers and more. He is simply self-effacing and polite as he quietly goes about being the best in all he endeavors.

Throughout the years, I have found Pratap to be extremely dedicated to his work, and more recently to his students. These are key attributes. Academically, I can honestly say that the authoritative tome Global Positioning System: Signals, Measurements and Performance that he coauthored with, another friend and colleague, Professor Per Enge of Stanford University, is among the most dog-eared in my PNT library. This widely praised volume is often described as a “comprehensive introduction to GPS: the system, signals, receivers, measurements, and algorithms for estimation of position, velocity, and time.” And while it was originally intended as a textbook for senior or graduate-level engineering courses, it also serves remarkably well as a self-study guide for practicing engineers and as a reference tool for writers and researchers. I consider it to be one of the three PNT bibles that are a must-have in every PNT subject-matter expert’s (SME) library. (The other two are  Global Positioning System: Theory and Applications, Volumes 1 and 2, by Bradford W. Parkinson and James J. Spilker, and Understanding GPS: Principles and Applications, Second Edition, by Elliott Kaplan and Christopher Hegarty.)

Revised Second Edition by Pratap Misra and Per Enge.

Revised Second Edition by Pratap Misra and Per Enge.

In recent years, Pratap Misra has been honored as both an ION and IEEE Fellow and has served as a past chairman of the ION Satellite Division. He has held numerous volunteer positions within ION, but most recently he has focused on something near and dear to his heart, the support of student programs. This is where Professor Pratap Misra is without peer. Frankly it is obvious that his students adore him, and it is due in no small part to his single-minded dedication to and concern for them.

Every time we meet, the majority of his words and thoughts concerns his students. Their welfare is always uppermost in his priority list. Inevitably, while we are attempting to conduct a quiet and private conversation or interview, we are constantly being interrupted by well-meaning students, past and present, who just want to thank Pratap for his help and support. I could fill up several pages with the technical accomplishments of Professor Pratap Misra, but none of those accomplishments, recognitions or awards mean as much to him as the love, support and success of his students. It is so obvious to anyone who pays attention that he wholeheartedly thinks of his students as and treats them just like family.

I am sure, or at least hope, we all have past professors or teachers in our lives that we remember fondly, and then there are the few or perhaps only the one that changed the course of our lives for the better. Professor Pratap Misra is one of those rare latter individuals, so deserving of the appellation — a professor that made a difference in the lives of his students. I am so proud that he deservedly won the Kepler Award and am deeply honored that I can call him my friend.

GPS-IRT Update

The Global Positioning System Independent Review Team (GPS-IRT) is now officially part of the Independent Strategic Assessment Group (ISAG) under the auspices of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). For 19+ years, the GPS-IRT was a separate team within IDA that researched GPS matters with the “goal of insuring both the military and civilian communities would benefit from new GPS/PNT capabilities and services.”

As a result of this organizational change, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) chose to formally recognize the GPS-IRT’s 19+ years of effort in support of GPS modernization.

Last Thursday, General John Hyten (USAF), the commander of Air Force Space Command, presented a commemorative plaque to Mr. Kirk Lewis, the executive director at IDA, for both the GPS-IRT and the ISAG. The plaque will be displayed with the GPS satellite on permanent display at AFSPC headquarters, in the James V. Hartinger building on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The plaque contains the names of the four prestigious chairmen who led the GPS-IRT over the last 19 years, as well as the names of the members of the IRT over that same time period. Sadly, two of the chairmen and five of the members are no longer with us, but we can only hope they are looking down upon us fondly and giving us guidance of a different sort.

Until next time, happy navigating, and remember: GPS is brought to you courtesy of the United States Air Force.

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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