Space Council Issues GPS Space Policy Directive, Final Report

Space Council Issues GPS Space Policy Directive, Final Report

In these closing days of the Trump Administration, the White House National Space Council is still hard at work.  Today it released a seventh Space Policy Directive, this one on positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) policy, and a final report recapping its accomplishments over the past four years. Perhaps the best known PNT system in the world is DOD’s Global Positioning System (GPS), an increasingly essential part of our everyday lives.

Scott Pace resigned as Executive Secretary of the Space Council on December 31, but did not rule out there might be more to come from the Council before Trump’s term ends on January 20.

The new Space Policy Directive-7 (SPD-7) builds on Executive Order 13905, issued on February 12, 2020, and the National Space Policy released December 9, 2020.  It supersedes the last PNT policy (NSPD-39), which dates back to the George W. Bush Administration.

Originally designed for the military, GPS now underpins much of modern society from enabling financial transactions to mapping to precision farming to operations of the electrical grid and cell phones.  Other countries have their own PNT systems including Russia’s GLONASS, China’s Beidou, and Europe’s Galileo, as well as augmentation systems like Japan’s QZSS.  Collectively they are referred to as Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).

GPS’s constellation of 24 operational satellites (plus spares) and ground control system continue to be upgraded and modernized by DOD to be more robust and secure, but jamming and spoofing are increasingly common.  The system is also vulnerable to disruption by space weather — energetic particles emitted by the Sun. How to protect GPS from Mother Nature and adversaries, as well as ensure there are alternatives so it is not a single point failure, are growing concerns.  In August 2019, DOD released an unclassified version of its 2018 PNT strategy warning that DOD’s “overdependence on GPS has become a vulnerability that must be addressed through the incorporation of alternative and complementary PNT capabilities.”

The February 2020 Executive Order was one step in that direction.  SPD-7 is another.  It establishes the goal of “maintaining U.S. leadership in the service provision and responsible use of global navigation satellite systems, including GPS and foreign systems.” As summarized by the White House, it outlines five objectives toward that end.

  • Provide continuous worldwide access to United States space-based GPS services and government-provided augmentations free of direct user fees.
  • Operate and maintain the Global Positioning System in accordance with United States law to satisfy civil, homeland security, and national security needs.
  • Improve the performance of United States space-based PNT services, including developing more robust signals that are more resistant to disruptions and manipulations.
  • Improve the cybersecurity of GPS, its augmentations, and United States Government-owned GPS-enabled devices, and foster private sector adoption of cyber-secure GPS-enabled systems.
  • Protect the spectrum environment used by GPS and its augmentations.

SPD-7 notes that applications for GPS no longer are confined to Earth, but extend from the Terrestrial Service Volume (Earth’s surface to 3,000 kilometers) to the Space Service Volume (3,000 kilometers to geosynchronous orbit (GSO) at 35,800 kilometers) to the Cislunar Service Volume (from GSO to and including the Moon’s orbit). Satellites in the Space Service Volume and Cislunar Service Volume also do, or will, rely on GPS.

The new directive was issued shortly after the White House released a final report of the Space Council’s activities over the past four years.  It continues the theme that the Trump Administration “restored” American leadership in space, an assertion that has irritated many in the space community who argue the U.S. never lost its leadership.

Nonetheless, it is a well written and useful summary of what the Space Council wanted to achieve and what they accomplished under the leadership of Vice President Mike Pence.

Scott Pace (center), Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, sits behind NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right) at the sixth meeting of the National Space Council, Aug. 20, 2019, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

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