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GPS vs Glonass battle turns ugly as Russia restricts US satellite use

Russia has struck a blow against the US-owned GPS network by restricting the use of satellite bases in the country that serve the rival network in a move that is in response to the US blocking similar implementations.

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A statement from the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos, confirmed that it has ruled out the use of the ground-based stations “for purposes not covered by existing agreements” and this extends to “military uses”.

“In accordance with the instructions of the Government of the Russian Federation, the Russian Space Agency in conjunction with the Federal Agency scientific organisations June 1, 2014 implemented measures to avoid the use of information from the global seismographic network stations operating on the signals of the GPS system and located in the Russian Federation,” the statement read.

The BBC reports that Dmitriy Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, has warned that if an agreement for Russia to set up a US base for its GPS rival Glonass cannot be reached by 31 August, GPS bases in Russia will be “stopped completely”.

Though Russia’s stance seems controversial to the casual observer, experts doubt that it will have much of an effect on GPS users around the world as the US government-owned system only uses a network of smaller stations in the country.

Professor David Last, a consultant on navigation systems and former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, told the BBC that the US administration "does not depend for the command and control of GPS on monitoring stations in Russia".

He went on to explain that Russia only hosts Continuously Operating Reference Stations [Cors] that, for the most part, look out for earthquakes and give feedback on meteorological data plus giving some data to GPS satellites.

"Their purpose is to increase reliability [of GPS] for local users. Closing them will only have an effect on GPS users in Russia,” Last added.

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Glonass, launched in the late 1970s, remains the only global rival to GPS and moves to improve its accuracy on a global basis have been increasingly scuppered by the US’s reluctance to allow a base station on its shores.

Image Credit: Flickr (NASA)