The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the only fully functional Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). Utilizing a constellation of at least 24 Medium Earth Orbit satellites that transmit precise microwave signals, the system enables a GPS receiver to determine its location, speed, direction, and time. Other similar systems are the Russian GLONASS (incomplete as of 2008), the upcoming European Galileo positioning system, the proposed COMPASS navigation system of China, and IRNSS of India.
Developed by the United States Department of Defense, GPS is officially named NAVSTAR GPS (Contrary to popular belief, NAVSTAR is not an acronym, but simply a name given by John Walsh, a key decision maker when it came to the budget for the GPS program). The satellite constellation is managed by the United States Air Force 50th Space Wing. The cost of maintaining the system is approximately US$750 million per year, including the replacement of aging satellites, and research and development.
Following the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive making the system available for free for civilian use as a common good. Since then, GPS has become a widely used aid to navigation worldwide, and a useful tool for map-making, land surveying, commerce, scientific uses, and hobbies such as geocaching. GPS also provides a precise time reference used in many applications including scientific study of earthquakes, and synchronization of telecommunications networks.
Simplified method of operationEdit
A typical GPS receiver calculates its position using the signals from four or more GPS satellites. Four satellites are needed since the process needs a very accurate local time, more accurate than any normal clock can provide, so the receiver internally solves for time as well as position. In other words, the receiver uses four measurements to solve for four variables: x, y, z, and t. These values are then turned into more user-friendly forms, such as latitude/longitude or location on a map, then displayed to the user.
Each GPS satellite has an atomic clock, and continually transmits messages containing the current time at the start of the message, parameters to calculate the location of the satellite (the ephemeris), and the general system health (the almanac). The signals travel at the speed of light through outer space, and slightly slower through the atmosphere. The receiver uses the arrival time to compute the distance to each satellite, from which it determines the position of the receiver using geometry and trigonometry (see trilateration)
Although four satellites are required for normal operation, fewer may be needed in some special cases. If one variable is already known (for example, a sea-going ship knows its altitude is 0), a receiver can determine its position using only three satellites. Also, in practice, receivers use additional clues (doppler shift of satellite signals, last known position, dead reckoning, inertial navigation, and so on) to give degraded answers when fewer than four satellites are visible.
Many civilian applications benefit from GPS signals, using one or more of three basic components of the GPS: absolute location, relative movement, and time transfer.
The ability to determine the receiver's absolute location allows GPS receivers to perform as a surveying tool or as an aid to navigation. The capacity to determine relative movement enables a receiver to calculate local velocity and orientation, useful in vessels or observations of the Earth. Being able to synchronize clocks to exacting standards enables time transfer, which is critical in large communication and observation systems. An example is CDMA digital cellular. Each base station has a GPS timing receiver to synchronize its spreading codes with other base stations to facilitate inter-cell hand off and support hybrid GPS/CDMA positioning of mobiles for emergency calls and other applications. Finally, GPS enables researchers to explore the Earth environment including the atmosphere, ionosphere and gravity field. GPS survey equipment has revolutionized tectonics by directly measuring the motion of faults in earthquakes.
To help prevent civilian GPS guidance from being used in an enemy's military or improvised weaponry, the US Government controls the export of civilian receivers. A US-based manufacturer cannot generally export a GPS receiver unless the receiver contains limits restricting it from functioning when it is simultaneously (1) at an altitude above 18 kilometres (60,000 ft) and (2) travelling at over 515 m/s (1,000 knots). These parameters are well above the operating characteristics of the typical cruise missile, but would be characteristic of the re-entry vehicle from a ballistic missile.
GPS functionality has now started to move into mobile phones en masse. The first handsets with integrated GPS were launched already in the late 1990’s, and were available for broader consumer availability on networks such as those run by Nextel, Sprint and Verizon in 2002 in response to US FCC mandates for handset positioning in emergency calls. Capabilities for access by third party software developers to these features were slower in coming, with Nextel opening those APIs up upon launch to any developer, Sprint following in 2006, and Verizon soon thereafter.
The design of GPS is based partly on the similar ground-based radio navigation systems, such as LORAN and the Decca Navigator developed in the early 1940s, and used during World War II. Additional inspiration for the GPS came when the Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik in 1957. A team of U.S. scientists led by Dr. Richard B. Kershner were monitoring Sputnik's radio transmissions. They discovered that, because of the Doppler effect, the frequency of the signal being transmitted by Sputnik was higher as the satellite approached, and lower as it continued away from them. They realized that since they knew their exact location on the globe, they could pinpoint where the satellite was along its orbit by measuring the Doppler distortion.
The first satellite navigation system, Transit, used by the United States Navy, was first successfully tested in 1960. Using a constellation of five satellites, it could provide a navigational fix approximately once per hour. In 1967, the U.S. Navy developed the Timation satellite which proved the ability to place accurate clocks in space, a technology the GPS relies upon. In the 1970s, the ground-based Omega Navigation System, based on signal phase comparison, became the first world-wide radio navigation system.
The first experimental Block-I GPS satellite was launched in February 1978. The GPS satellites were initially manufactured by Rockwell International (now part of Boeing) and are now manufactured by Lockheed Martin (IIR/IIR-M) and Boeing (IIF).
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