10 Who Made a Difference in Space: James Kirkland, Vice President and General Counsel Trimble Navigation

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The Coalition to Save Our GPS only officially came into existence in March. Today it’s a household name — to anybody who makes a living in satellite-based telecommunications or navigation, that is.

Created in response to the threat of GPS interference posed by LightSquared’s planned satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband network, the coalition today boasts more than 200 members and associate members combined representing some of the top names in industries including aviation, construction, recreation and farm equipment. Backed by this industrial muscle and a technical working group’s report confirming the interference problem, the coalition has succeeded not only in drawing widespread attention to the issue but also in rallying key members of Congress behind its cause.

If there is a point person for the coalition, it is James Kirkland, vice president and general counsel at GPS equipment maker Trimble Navigation and the principal spokesman for the group. Kirkland has kept up the pressure in the wake of the technical working group’s devastating report, even as LightSquared has offered up major operating concessions in hopes of winning approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to proceed with a watered-down system.

LightSquared’s plans, along with the potential for its network to disrupt certain GPS applications, have been known for many years, but it was only recently that the opposition truly mobilized. The coalition could have been forged by some of the recent waivers the FCC granted to LightSquared operating license. Specifically, the FCC approved LightSquared’s request to operate its ground stations at higher power levels and to offer a terrestrial-only version of its service.

But LightSquared argues that the GPS industry got serious in its opposition only when it became apparent that LightSquared was making real headway with its plans. LightSquared launched its SkyTerra-1 satellite in November, and while it still faced the daunting challenge of raising the billions of dollars necessary to deploy its network of some 40,000 ground-based repeaters, the company was growing more confident in its ability to do so.

Now, however, that task seems considerably tougher, and a key reason for that is the Coalition to Save Our GPS, which looks to be a model for rapid and effective industry mobilization behind a single cause. Come to think of it, companies fed up with U.S. export control regime might be wise to have a chat with Kirkland.