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Published by koosterhuis
Precision Farming Tools: Global Positioning System (GPS)
Precision Farming Tools: Global Positioning System (GPS)

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Published by: koosterhuis on May 30, 2011
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GPS Cool Facts
First GPS satellite was launched in 1978.Current system is composed of second-generation GPS satel-lites, called Block II.First Block II satellite was launched in 1989.Defense Department declared GPS fully operational in 1995.When the system was rst introduced, miscalculations (calledSA – Selective Availability) were programmed into GPS trans-missions to limit the accuracy of non-military GPS receivers.This operation was cancelled in May 2000.There are 24 GPS satellites in orbit at this moment.• The 24 satellites cost an estimated $12 billion to build andlaunch.Each satellite weighs about 1,735 pounds.Satellites are orbiting about 12,500 miles above the Earth.Satellites take 12 hours to orbit the Earth once.The Russians have a system identical to the U.S. system calledGLONASS.
Produced by Communications and Marketing, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009
Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion,age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University,and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Rick D. Rudd, Interim Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, VirginiaTech, Blacksburg; Alma C. Hobbs, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
publication 442-503
Precision Farming Tools:
Global Positioning System (GPS)
 Robert (Bobby) Grisso, Extension Engineer, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech Mark Alley, Professor, Crop & Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia TechConrad Heatwole, associate professor, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech
Precision Farming.
Modern agricultural managementpractices are changing from assuming homogenouselds to attempting to address eld variability by divid-ing the eld into smaller zones and managing thesezones separately. Precision farming can be dened asthe gathering of information dealing with spatial andtemporal variation within a eld and then using thatinformation to manage inputs and practices (
PrecisionFarming: A Comprehensive Approach
, Virginia Coop-erative Extension (VCE) publication 442-500). Preci-sion farming is made possible by linking computers,on-the-go sensors, Global Positioning Systems (GPS),and other devices. This publication discusses GPS prin-ciples and the technology that makes it possible.
Global PositioningSystem (GPS).
GPS iswidely available in theagricultural communityand its potential is grow-ing. Farm uses includemapping yields (GPS+ combine yield moni-tor), variable rate plant-ing (GPS + variable-rateplanter drive), variablerate lime and fertilizerapplication (GPS +variable-rate spreaderdrive), variable rate pes-ticide application (GPS+ variable-rate applica-tor), eld mapping forrecords and insurancepurposes (GPS + map-ping software) and par-allel swathing (GPS +
navigation tool). Terms associatedwith GPS are listed in the Glossary.
GPS Design
The U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) GPS is anavigational system made up of 24 satellites. GPS usessatellites and computers to determine positions any-where on Earth 24 hours a day. The orbital patterns andspacing of the GPS satellites (their constellation) pro-vide nine to 12 satellites above the horizon at any pointon the Earth. This allows every point of the Earth’s sur-face to have a unique address.
There are essentially three parts that make up GPS: thespace segment, usersegment, and controlsegment. The spacesegment is based onthe constellation of 24active and 3 spare satel-lites orbiting the Earth.The control segment isa system of ve moni-toring stations locatedaround the world, withthe master controlfacility located at Fal-con Air Force Base inColorado. The user seg-ment, which is the fast-est growing segment, ismade up of GPS receiv-ers and the user com-munity. GPS receiversconvert the satellites’
signals into position, velocity, and time. This informationis used for navigation, positioning, time dissemination,and research.
Location and Space Segment
Using triangulation to determine precise location is thebasic idea behind the GPS system. Based on the inter-section of a group of satellites’ signals, triangulationor satellite ranging is used to calculate a location onearth by measuring the distance from each of severalsatellites in space. The satellites act as reference pointsin space. Knowing the distances from the satellites toa point on the Earth’s surface allows a position to beaccurately determined.Four satellite measurements are needed to determineexact position in three-dimensional space. In order fortriangulation to work, a receiver measures the amountof time a radio wave takes to travel from a satellite to thereceiver. Both the satellite and receiver generate a setof digital codes called pseudo-random codes at exactlythe same time. The pseudo-random code repeats itself every millisecond and is carried on radio waves. Eachsatellite transmits two carrier signals. Thus, the differ-ence between the satellite’s code and receiver’s pseudo-random code will give the distance between the two.Since accurate time is important to the system, eachsatellite carries four atomic clocks. Only one clock oneach satellite is used while the other three are back-ups. An atomic clock gets its name from using theoscillations of either cesium or rubiduim atoms as the“timing regulator.” These clocks give the most stableand accurate measurement of time. However, eventhough they are very accurate, atomic clocks are notperfect and slight inaccuracies can occur. These inac-curacies can result in errors in position measurements.Receiver clocks do not have to be as accurate becausetrigonometry can correct receiver-clock errors.In addition to having accurate time, the location of eachsatellite is needed in order for GPS to work. The sat-ellites are placed high above the Earth (about 12,500miles) so their orbits are very predictable. However, theDOD’s monitoring stations measure minor variations inorbits called ephemeris errors and the data are transmit-ted back to the satellites. Other satellites and receiv-ers adjust for any errors read from this data messagegiving the exact orbital location and condition of eachsatellite.
Receivers and User Segments
In the user segment there are two classes of receivers,military and civilian (standard). The civilian receiver canread the L1 frequency. Military or authorized users withcryptographic equipment, keys, and specially equippedreceivers can read the L2 as well as the L1 frequency.The combination of the two frequencies greatly increasesthe accuracy.Most receivers available are continuous receivers andthey can monitor four or more satellites simultaneously,depending on the number of channels available. Con-tinuous receivers are more expensive and require morepower, but they can give instantaneous position andvelocity. There is also less possibility of error becausethe receiver can receive several pseudo-random codes atthe same time. The user has to determine what level of accuracy for location and velocity is needed for the avail-able budget. With more channels, the receiver can gainadditional accuracy but the cost is higher for the unit.
Management or Control Segment
The ultimate accuracy of the system is determined bythe sum of several types of errors (see “What causeserror in GPS readings?” below). The DOD can realignand reposition the orbits of the satellites for increasedaccuracy.The system was designed with an operational modecalled “selective availability” (SA) which the DOD canuse to purposefully degrade the accuracy of the system.SA was designed to prevent hostile forces from havingthe tactical advantage of GPS positioning. When SA isactivated, the signal gives the largest source of error.Currently, SA is turned off and DOD does not intendto use SA again. To ensure that potential adversariesdo not use GPS, the military is dedicated to develop-ing and deploying regional denial capabilities in lieu of global degradation through SA.
GPS Signals and Corrections
What causes errors in GPS readings?
There are sev-eral things associated with the GPS system that cancause errors in GPS position information. The mostcommon GPS errors are shown in Table 1.The contributor of each source of error may varydepending on atmospheric and equipment conditions.With all these types of errors, it would appear that thesystem could not be all that accurate. However, with the
Table 1.
Common errors associated with GPS signals.
Error ExplanationClock
GPS satellites carry very accurate atomic clocks to generate timing signals. GPS receivers must also have a clockto compare the timing signals received from the satellites to internally generated timing signals. For cost reasons,most GPS receiver clocks are not as accurate as satellite clocks, nor are they tightly synchronized with satelliteclocks. Though only three satellite signals are absolutely necessary for triangulation calculations, a fourth satellitesignal is necessary to synchronize the receiver clock with the satellite clocks.
Satellite orbits can vary slightly over time andrequire periodic adjustment by system maintain-ers. Since the orbits vary, errors can exist in thesatellite ephemeris (location) data used in trian-gulation calculations.
Dilution of 
The conguration of the satellites in view to a
receiver at any given time can affect the accuracy
of position determination. For instance, if all of the visible satellites happen to be bunched closetogether, the triangulated position will be lessaccurate than if those same satellites were evenlydistributed around the visible sky (Figures 1 and2). The Dilution of Precision (DOP) is quanti-ed from the satellite conguration. Many GPSreceivers will display values for Horizontal DOP(quality of latitude and longitude data), VerticalDOP (quality of elevation data), Position DOP(quality of three-dimensional measurement),or Time DOP (quality of time determination).Lower values for DOPs indicate better satellitecongurations. In general, DOPs less than fourwill give good position determinations.
When radio waves from GPS satellites enterthe Earth’s atmosphere, their paths can be bentor refracted. This bending will actually changethe length of the path the radio signal takes toget to the receiver. This change in length willcause an error in distance determination. Atmo-spheric effects are usually greater on satelliteslow on the horizon since the radio waves enterthe atmosphere at more of an angle. Some GPSreceivers allow the user to ignore or mask satel-lites below a set angle above the horizon.
Multipath errors are similar to atmospheric errorsbut are often more severe. Multipath means thatthe same radio signal is received several timesthrough different paths. For instance, a radiowave could leave a satellite and travel directlyto the receiver, but it also bounces off a buildingand arrives at the receiver at a later time (Figure3). Multipath can confuse position calculationsand cause signicant errors. The most commoncauses of multipath errors in agricultural settingsare buildings, ponds, and lakes.Figure 1. Satellite conguration that has a) poor DOP andb) good DOPFigure 2: Geometric Dilution of Precision is an error causedby the angle between satellites. The closer the satellites arethe more room for error at the intersection of the signals.

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