Under development since the 1980s, the completely revised chapter V (safety of navigation) of the Annex to the International Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) came into force last July (2002). Several new regulations in this revised chapter are of importance to the hydrographic world. Regulation 2 gives the definition of a nautical chart and nautical publication, while Regulation 19 gives a carriage requirement. Regulation 9 obliges contracting governments to execute hydrographic surveys, prepare, issue and update nautical charts. For our readership of surveyors and hydrographers, this last Regulation 9 must sound like music to their ears:
- An answer to government administrations who have been asking their hydrographic service the difficult question: ‘where is it written that you have to survey?’
- Contracting opportunities for private surveying and chart-producing companies to help governments not intending or unable to perform this work by themselves
Do we see nations (excepting those who already have their ‘wet infrastructure’ in place) taking up this responsibility? Are the relevant private companies overwhelmed with enquiries and calls for tenders to carry out hydrographic surveys and/or chart production? Probably not. Governments behave like human beings: rights are more easily claimed than duties performed. Seeing the time it took to have UNCLOS-initiated surveys carried out by the private sector (UNCLOS was signed in 1982 and has been in force since 1994), it may take years for things to happen now too. Clearly, the private sector will have to work (i.e. lobby) to convince countries to live up to their obligations.
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s the first US Navy navigation satellite system (Transit-NNSS / SATNAV) became operational. The receiver filled a 19" rack and the costs were similar to the weight in kilos: heavy. The former USSR had a similar system called Tsikada. The successors to these systems, the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and its counterpart, the Russian GLONASS, have greatly revolutionised navigation, surveying and mapping throughout the world with the high accuracy (decimetre level or better) that can be obtained with this much cheaper, relatively light-weight equipment. GNSS is nowadays found in many civil applications. However, society/economies have simultaneously become dependent on their reliable operation. Even more so as GNSSs are being used not only for positioning but for other purposes as well (e.g., precise timing in telecom network synchronisation). This success of GPS may also be a disadvantage to it, as US defence budgets could be allocated to other projects, thereby delaying system modernisation. Are we aware of our vulnerability? For instance, some GPS-satellites are reported to be working in ‘single string failure mode’ (i.e. no longer with backup for important circuits). And what about vulnerability due to interference or jamming? In this regard, see the article ‘Challenging GNSS vulnerability’.
Further on GNSS: in this month’s multi-interview three well-known experts on GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO, respectively, answer our questions on various aspects of GNSS and give their views on what GNSS has to offer for the future.