It seems that old Soviet traditions never die – when president Putin was told of the successful launch of three new Glonass satellites, he decided to get personally involved in the future of the system and ordered acceleration of its deployment schedule.
The original plan was to continue with launches of three satellites every year, gradually switching to newer Glonass-M satellites, which have longer service lives (this year launch ). This would have brought the constellation to 18 operational satellites in 2007 and to 24 – by 2010. That wasn’t enough for Putin, who demanded that the system should be completed at least two years earlier – by 2008.
The manufacturer of the satellites, NPO PM, immediately seized the opportunity, announcing that it will produce four Glonass-M satellites in 2006 and five more in 2007. This would allow launching three satellites in 2006 and six – in 2007. Theoretically this should be enough for bringing the number of operational satellites in the constellation to 24 (although some older Glonass satellites will end their operations by then).
The main problem of the Glonass system, however, is not the satellites. Rather, it is the very thin customer base and the lack of clear incentives to develop all kinds of applications (commercial and otherwise) that the system can support. Speaking about prospects for the system, the minister of defense told the president that the ministry is going to begin installing Glonass receivers on ships and various vehicles in 2006. Shouldn’t they have been installed already? Besides, it is difficult to see how a navigation system would provide “a boost to the economic development of the country” (in Mr. Putin’s words) if this country’s laws prohibit citizens from knowing their positions with the accuracy that the system can offer.
I have no doubts that with the help of the “royal attention” NPO PM will manufacture all the necessary satellites and the Space Forces will successfully launch them ahead of schedule. But something tells me that there is good chance that in 2008 the military transport aviation will still use GPS receivers.