The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that provides reliable location and time information in all weather and at all times and anywhere on or near the Earth when and where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible by anyone with a GPS receiver. In addition to GPS other systems are in use or under development. The Russian GLObal NAvigation Satellite System (GLONASS) was for use by the Russian military only until 2007. There are also the planned Chinese Compass navigation system and Galileo positioning system of the European Union (EU). GPS was created and realized by the U.S. Department of Defense (USDOD) and was originally run with 24 satellites. It was established in 1973 to overcome the limitations of previous navigation systems.
The design of GPS is based partly on similar ground-based radio navigation systems, such as LORAN and the Decca Navigator developed in the early 1940s, and used during World War II. In 1956 Friedwardt Winterberg proposed a test of general relativity using accurate atomic clocks placed in orbit in artificial satellites. To achieve accuracy requirements, GPS uses principles of general relativity to correct the satellites' atomic clocks. Additional inspiration for GPS came when the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite, 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 because they knew their exact location on the globe, they could pinpoint where the satellite was along its orbit by measuring the Doppler distortion (see Transit (satellite)).
The first satellite navigation system, Transit, used by the United States Navy, was first successfully tested in 1960. It used a constellation of five satellites and could provide a navigational fix approximately once per hour. In 1967, the U.S. Navy developed the Timation satellite that proved the ability to place accurate clocks in space, a technology required by GPS. In the 1970s, the ground-based Omega Navigation System, based on phase comparison of signal transmission from pairs of stations, became the first worldwide radio navigation system. Limitations of these systems drove the need for a more universal navigation solution with greater accuracy.
While there were wide needs for accurate navigation in military and civilian sectors, almost none of those were seen as justification for the billions of dollars it would cost in research, development, deployment, and operation for a constellation of navigation satellites. During the Cold War arms race, the nuclear threat to the existence of the United States was the one need that did justify this cost in the view of the US Congress. This deterrent effect is why GPS was funded. The nuclear triad consisted of the US Navy's submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) along with the US Air Force's strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Considered vital to the nuclear deterrence posture, accurate determination of the SLBM launch position was a force multiplier.
Precise navigation would enable US submarines to get an accurate fix of their positions prior to launching their SLBMs. The US Air Force with two-thirds of the nuclear triad also had requirements for a more accurate and reliable navigation system. The Navy and Air Force were developing their own technologies in parallel to solve what was essentially the same problem. To increase the survivability of ICBMs, there was a proposal to use mobile launch platforms so the need to fix the launch position had similarity to the SLBM situation.
In 1960, the Air Force proposed a radio-navigation system called MOSAIC (Mobile System for Accurate ICBM Control) that was essentially a 3-D LORAN. A follow-on study called Project 57 was worked in 1963 and it was "in this study that the GPS concept was born." That same year the concept was pursued as Project 621B, which had "many of the attributes that you now see in GPS" and promised increased accuracy for Air Force bombers as well as ICBMs. Updates from the Navy Transit system were too slow for the high speeds of Air Force operation. The Navy Research Laboratory continued advancements with their Timation (Time Navigation) satellites, first launched in 1967, and with the third one in 1974 carrying the first atomic clock into orbit.
With these parallel developments in the 1960s, it was realized that a superior system could be developed by synthesizing the best technologies from 621B, Transit, Timation, and SECOR in a multi-service program.
During Labor Day weekend in 1973, a meeting of about 12 military officers at the Pentagon discussed the creation of a Defense Navigation Satellite System (DNSS). It was at this meeting that "the real synthesis that became GPS was created." Later that year, the DNSS program was named Navstar. With the individual satellites being associated with the name Navstar (as with the predecessors Transit and Timation), a more fully encompassing name was used to identify the constellation of Navstar satellites, Navstar-GPS, which was later shortened simply to GPS.
After Korean Air Lines Flight 007, carrying 269 people, was shot down in 1983 after straying into the USSR's prohibited airspace, in the vicinity of Sakhalin and Moneron Islands, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive making GPS freely available for civilian use, once it was sufficiently developed, as a common good. The first satellite was launched in 1989, and the 24th satellite was launched in 1994.
Initially, the highest quality signal was reserved for military use, and the signal available for civilian use was intentionally degraded ("Selective Availability", SA). This changed with US President Bill Clinton ordering Selective Availability turned off at midnight May 1, 2000, improving the precision of civilian GPS from 100 meters (about 300 feet) to 20 meters (about 65 feet). The US military by then had the ability to deny GPS service to potential adversaries on a regional basis.
GPS is owned and operated by the US Government as a national resource. Department of Defense (USDOD) is the steward of GPS. Interagency GPS Executive Board (IGEB) oversaw GPS policy matters from 1996 to 2004. After that the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee was established by presidential directive in 2004 to advise and coordinate federal departments and agencies on matters concerning the GPS and related systems. The executive committee is chaired jointly by the deputy secretaries of defense and transportation. Its membership includes equivalent-level officials from the departments of state, commerce, and homeland security, the joint chiefs of staff, and NASA. Components of the executive office of the president participate as observers to the executive committee, and the FCC chairman participates as a liaison.
USDOD is required by law to "maintain a Standard Positioning Service (as defined in the federal radio navigation plan and the standard positioning service signal specification) that will be available on a continuous, worldwide basis," and "develop measures to prevent hostile use of GPS and its augmentations without unduly disrupting or degrading civilian uses."
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|(Last update: 24 May 2010)
GPS consists of three parts: the space segment, the control segment, and the user segment. The U.S. Air Force develops, maintains, and operates the space and control segments. GPS satellites broadcast signals from space, and each GPS receiver uses these signals to calculate its three-dimensional location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) and the current time.
The space segment is composed of 24 to 32 satellites in medium Earth orbit and also includes the payload adapters to the boosters required to launch them into orbit. The control segment is composed of a master control station, an alternate master control station, and a host of dedicated and shared ground antennas and monitor stations. The user segment is composed of hundreds of thousands of U.S. and allied military users of the secure GPS Precise Positioning Service, and tens of millions of civil, commercial, and scientific users of the Standard Positioning Service (see GPS navigation devices).
While originally a military project, GPS is considered a dual-use technology, meaning it has significant military and civilian applications.
GPS has become a widely deployed and useful tool for commerce, scientific uses, tracking, and surveillance. GPS's accurate time facilitates everyday activities such as banking, mobile phone operations, and even the control of power grids by allowing well synchronized hand-off switching. Farmers, surveyors, geologists, and countless others perform their work more efficiently, safely, economically, and accurately.
Many civilian applications use one or more of GPS's three basic components: absolute location, relative movement, and time transfer.
The U.S. Government controls the export of some civilian receivers. All GPS receivers capable of functioning above 18 kilometers (11 mi) altitude and 515 metres per second (1,001 kn) are classified as munitions (weapons) that U.S. State Department export licenses are required. These limits attempt to prevent use of a receiver in a ballistic missile. They would not prevent use in a cruise missile because their altitudes and speeds are similar to those of ordinary aircraft.
This rule applies even to otherwise purely civilian units that only receive the L1 frequency and the C/A (Clear/Acquisition) code and cannot correct for Selective Availability (SA), etc.
Disabling operation above these limits exempts the receiver from classification as a munition. Vendor interpretations differ. The rule targets operation given the combination of altitude and speed, while some receivers stop operating even when stationary. This has caused problems with some amateur radio balloon launches that regularly reach 30 kilometers (19 mi).
As of 2009, military applications of GPS include:
On February 10, 1993, the National Aeronautic Association selected the GPS Team as winners of the 1992 Robert J. Collier Trophy, the nation's most prestigious aviation award. This team combines researchers from the Naval Research Laboratory, the U.S. Air Force, the Aerospace Corporation, Rockwell International Corporation, and IBM Federal Systems Company. The citation honors them "for the most significant development for safe and efficient navigation and surveillance of air and spacecraft because the introduction of radio navigation 50 years ago."
A GPS receiver calculates its position by precisely timing the signals sent by GPS satellites high above the Earth. Each satellite continually transmits messages that include
The receiver uses the messages it receives to determine the transit time of each message and computes the distance to each satellite. These distances along with the satellites' locations are used with the possible aid of trilateration, depending on the algorithm is used, to compute the position of the receiver. This position is then displayed, perhaps with a moving map display or latitude and longitude; elevation information may be included. Many GPS units show derived information such as direction and speed, calculated from position changes.
Three satellites might seem enough to solve for position because space has three dimensions and a position near the Earth's surface can be assumed. However, even a very small clock error multiplied by the very large speed of light — the speed that the satellite signals propagate — results in a large positional error. Therefore receivers use four or more satellites to solve for the receiver's location and time. The very accurately computed time is effectively hidden by most GPS applications, which use only the location. A few specialized GPS applications do however use the time; these include time transfer, traffic signal timing, and synchronization of cell phone base stations.
Although four satellites are required for normal operation, fewer apply in special cases. If one variable is already known, a receiver can determine its position using only three satellites. For example, a ship or aircraft may have known elevation. Some GPS receivers may use additional clues or assumptions (such as reusing the last known altitude, dead reckoning, inertial navigation, or including information from the vehicle computer) to give a less accurate (degraded) position when fewer than four satellites are visible.
To provide an introductory description of how a GPS receiver works, error effects are deferred to a later section. Using messages received from a minimum of four visible satellites, a GPS receiver is able to determine the times sent and then the satellite positions corresponding to these times sent. The x, y, and z components of position, and the time sent, are designated as where the subscript i is the satellite number and has the value 1, 2, 3, or 4. Knowing the indicated time the message was received , the GPS receiver can compute the transit time of the message as . Assuming the message traveled at the speed of light, c, the distance traveled or pseudorange, can be computed as .
A satellite's position and pseudorange define a sphere, centered on the satellite with radius equal to the pseudorange. The position of the receiver is somewhere on the surface of this sphere. Thus with four satellites, the indicated position of the GPS receiver is at or near the intersection of the surfaces of four spheres. In the ideal case of no errors, the GPS receiver would be at a precise intersection of the four surfaces.
If the surfaces of two spheres intersect at more than one point, they intersect in a circle. The article trilateration shows this mathematically. A figure, Two Sphere Surfaces Intersecting in a Circle, is shown below.
The intersection of a third spherical surface with the first two will be its intersection with that circle; in most cases of practical interest, this means they intersect at two points. Another figure, Surface of Sphere Intersecting a Circle (not a solid disk) at Two Points, illustrates the intersection. The two intersections are marked with dots. Again the article trilateration clearly shows this mathematically.
For automobiles and other near-earth vehicles, the correct position of the GPS receiver is the intersection closest to the Earth's surface. For space vehicles, the intersection farthest from Earth may be the correct one.
The correct position for the GPS receiver is also the intersection closest to the surface of the sphere corresponding to the fourth satellite.
One of the most significant error sources is the GPS receiver's clock. Because of the very large value of the speed of light, c, the estimated distances from the GPS receiver to the satellites, the pseudoranges, are very sensitive to errors in the GPS receiver clock; for example an error of one microsecond (0.000 001 second) corresponds to an error of 300 metres (980 ft). This suggests that an extremely accurate and expensive clock is required for the GPS receiver to work. Because manufacturers prefer to build inexpensive GPS receivers for mass markets, the solution for this dilemma is based on the way sphere surfaces intersect in the GPS problem.
It is likely that the surfaces of the three spheres intersect, because the circle of intersection of the first two spheres is normally quite large, and thus the third sphere surface is likely to intersect this large circle. It is very unlikely that the surface of the sphere corresponding to the fourth satellite will intersect either of the two points of intersection of the first three, because any clock error could cause it to miss intersecting a point. However, the distance from the valid estimate of GPS receiver position to the surface of the sphere corresponding to the fourth satellite can be used to compute a clock correction. Let denote the distance from the valid estimate of GPS receiver position to the fourth satellite and let denote the pseudorange of the fourth satellite. Let . is the distance from the computed GPS receiver position to the surface of the sphere corresponding to the fourth satellite. Thus the quotient, , provides an estimate of
and the GPS receiver clock can be advanced if is positive or delayed if is negative. However, it should be kept in mind that a less simple function of may be needed to estimate the time error in an iterative algorithm as discussed in the Navigation section.
The current GPS consists of three major segments. These are the space segment (SS), a control segment (CS), and a user segment (US).
The space segment (SS) is composed of the orbiting GPS satellites, or Space Vehicles (SV) in GPS parlance. The GPS design originally called for 24 SVs, eight each in three circular orbital planes, but this was modified to six planes with four satellites each. The orbital planes are centered on the Earth, not rotating with respect to the distant stars. The six planes have approximately 55° inclination (tilt relative to Earth's equator) and are separated by 60° right ascension of the ascending node (angle along the equator from a reference point to the orbit's intersection). The orbits are arranged so that at least six satellites are always within line of sight from almost everywhere on Earth's surface. The result of this objective is that the four satellites are not evenly spaced (90 degrees) apart within each orbit. In general terms, the angular difference between satellites in each orbit is 30, 105, 120, and 105 degrees apart which, of course, sum to 360 degrees.
Orbiting at an altitude of approximately 20,200 kilometers (about 12,550 miles or 10,900 nautical miles; orbital radius of approximately 26,600 km (about 16,500 mi or 14,400 NM)), each SV makes two complete orbits each sidereal day, repeating the same ground track each day. This was very helpful during development because even with only four satellites, correct alignment means all four are visible from one spot for a few hours each day. For military operations, the ground track repeat can be used to ensure good coverage in combat zones.
As of March 2008[update], there are 31 actively broadcasting satellites in the GPS constellation, and two older, retired from active service satellites kept in the constellation as orbital spares. The additional satellites improve the precision of GPS receiver calculations by providing redundant measurements. With the increased number of satellites, the constellation was changed to a nonuniform arrangement. Such an arrangement was shown to improve reliability and availability of the system, relative to a uniform system, when multiple satellites fail. About eight satellites are visible from any point on the ground at any one time (see animation at right).