If the Kessler Effect were to reach critical mass and render it nigh-impossible to put anything in orbit, allowing for some handwavery, what sort of options are there for replacement geolocation with any degree of accuracy?

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    $\begingroup$ (1) GPS is just one of the several satellite-based navigation systems in use today; other examples include GLONASS and BeiDou. (2) Navigation satellites are usually placed in high orbits with periods of about 12 hours; such orbits are way too high to be affected by a believable Kessler Syndrome. (3) Satellite-based navigation systems were preceded (by many decades) by ground-based long-range navigation systems, such as the original LORAN and its numerous offspring; they could be resurrected if needed. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ More about LORAN in a similar question: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/87322/34273 $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to comment about LORAN, but hey. Beat me to it. Might write up an answer when I can, unless, well, someone beats me to it $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 19:08

1 Answer 1


If the Kessler Effect were to happen tomorrow, we could easily replace the GPS satellites by the mobile phone towers. GPS systems already uses the higher degree of accuracy of phone towers to pinpoint precise location in a city.

Of course, that would work only wherever there is such a tower, thus the scientists doing field research and tagging animals in the outback would be in trouble. But, for the vast majority of us, we would hardly notice any difference.

And it would cost nothing to make this change, since the hardware is already in place. Just some recoding of the software so it stops looking for satellite signal and we'd be more or less set.

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    $\begingroup$ It's also worth noting this option probably won't work for shipping, the industry perhaps most dependant on G.P.S. and for the military (it's original users.) Though given the resources available to both groups they'd likely find alternative fairly quickly $\endgroup$
    – Ummdustry
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Ummdustry A very good point. Though I'm quite sure that most major armies around the world have solutions if the GPS system becomes unavailable for whatever reason, like a high-altitude EMP. The shipping industry might not, saves cost, and would need a bit to adapt, but we had maps of the seas for century, it wouldn't be that hard. $\endgroup$
    – Sava
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ Commercial shipping and air travel was in operation and successful long before GPS was available. GPS is, in fact, a relatively recent innovation. The first real GPS satellite (as opposed to the test satellites used previously) wasn't launched until 1989 and the system wasn't fully operational until 1995. And it was only in 2000 that intentional degradation was turned off and GPS applications became more widely available. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison, the degradation is irrellevant for ships and air travel. In most cases, a location error of a few hundred meters doesn't matter, as you can use radar or visual for pinpointing the location of ships, and airplanes can use radio beacons for exactly finding the landing strip. The accuracy is only important for ground location, like to determine if you are on the highway or the parallel rural road. Decca could also be used again for geolocation. $\endgroup$
    – Lenne
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ There are so many false assumptions about our current state of technology here... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 3:28

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