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Old-school seafaring tech repurposed as a GPS fallback


GPS is super useful when you're trying to navigate unfamiliar areas in cars and on foot, but for ships, it's an outright lifeline. Many vital systems, especially on large commercial vessels, rely almost entirely on GPS data, meaning it's a pretty huge deal when satellite connection is lost. GPS is far from infallible, and signals can be jammed by equipment and even solar storms, which is why the UK has begun rolling out a fallback positioning network that uses technology first implemented by the US Navy during WWII. The once-popular Loran positioning system was essentially superseded by GPS, but in a twist to the tale, the UK is using an improved version, known as eLoran, to ensure ships aren't completely reliant on satellite signals. Trials started at the beginning of last year, and the first seven eLoran stations are now live along the East coast of Great Britain, with all the UK's major ports expected to be covered by 2019.

The ground-based eLoran system uses long-range radio waves for positioning, much like space-based GPS. It operates on different frequencies, however, and carries a much stronger signal that's significantly harder to interfere with. It's the perfect back-up, then, if satellites start falling out of the sky while a ship is trying to traverse a crowded port. Older Loran networks are being decommissioned as they aren't deemed cost-effective, but the UK isn't the only place interested in building new, eLoran infrastructure. South Korea is particularly keen on the technology, as it knows the implications of a GPS blackout all too well. What pranksters those North Koreans are.

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