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Russia is jamming GPS satellite signals in Ukraine, US Space Force says

GPS services appear to be under threat in Ukraine.
GPS services appear to be under threat in Ukraine. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin and U.S. Space Force)

Another piece of space infrastructure for Ukraine is under attack, according to an NBC report.

Jammers from Russian forces besieging the country are targeting global positioning system (GPS) satellite signals that are used for navigation, mapping and other purposes, the report said, quoting the U.S. Space Force.

"Ukraine may not be able to use GPS because there are jammers around that prevent them from receiving any usable signal," Gen. David Thompson, the Space Force's vice chief of space operations, told NBC Nightly News (opens in new tab) Monday (April 11).

"Certainly the Russians understand the value and importance of GPS and try to prevent others from using it," Thompson added. He noted that Russia has not directly attacked any satellites in orbit, but the Space Force is keeping an eye out for such possibilities.

Related: How GPS systems help people navigate

Specifically, Russia is targeting the Navstar system of satellites used by the United States and made available openly to many countries around the world, Thompson said. (Russia has its own independent system, called GLONASS, while the Europeans have one called Galileo and China has one called Beidou.)

Navstar uses 24 main satellites that each orbit the Earth every 12 hours. The system works by sending synchronized signals to users on Earth. Because the satellites move in different directions, the user receives their signals at slightly different times. When four satellites are available, GPS receivers can use their signals to calculate the user's position, often to within just a few feet.

Ukraine is also suffering from a lack of Internet connectivity as a result of the Russian attacks, which began Feb. 24 and are ongoing. SpaceX, at Ukraine's request, has shipped thousands of Starlink terminals to the country to provide an independent set of infrastructure. 

In early March, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that Starlink signals have also been jammed, although his company is adapting. "Some Starlink terminals near conflict areas were being jammed for several hours at a time," Musk wrote via Twitter (opens in new tab) on March 1. "Our latest software update bypasses the jamming."

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.