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Table of Contents:

• What is Navigation?
• What is GPS?
• Elements of GPS.
• GPS Applications.
• How GPS works?
• How is GPS used today?
• The future of GPS availability.
• The latest GPS Systems

 What is Navigation?
Since prehistoric times, people have been trying to figure out a reliable way to
tell where they are and how to get to their destination—and back home again.
Such knowledge often meant survival and economic power in society. Early

cultures probably marked trails when they set out hunting for food. They later
began making maps and, by the Classical Age of Greece, developed the use of
latitude (your location on Earth measured north or south from the equator) and
longitude (your location on Earth measured east or west of a designated prime
meridian) as a way of locating places. Today the prime meridian used
worldwide runs through the Greenwich Observatory in England.

Early mariners followed the coast closely to keep from getting lost. When they
learned to chart their course by following the stars, they could venture out into
the open seas. The ancient Phoenicians used the North Star to journey from
Egypt and Crete. According to Homer, the goddess Athena told Odysseus to
"keep the Great Bear on his left” during his travels from Calypso’s Island.
Unfortunately the stars are only visible at night—and only on clear nights.
Sometimes lighthouses provided a light to guide mariners at night and warn
them of nearby hazards.

The next major developments in navigation were the magnetic compass and the
sextant. The needle of a compass always points to the magnetic North Pole, so
it tells you your "heading,” or the direction you're going. Mariner's maps in the
Age of Exploration often depicted the headings between key ports and were
jealously guarded by their owners.

The sextant uses adjustable mirrors to measure the exact angle of the stars,
moon, and sun above the horizon. From these angles and an "almanac" of the
positions of the sun, moon and stars, you can determine your latitude in clear
weather, day or night. Sailors, however, were still unable to determine their
longitude. When you look at very old maps, you sometimes find that the
latitudes of the coastlines are accurate, but the longitudes are off by hundreds of
miles. This was such a serious problem that in the 17th century the British
government formed a special Board of Longitude consisting of well-known
scientists. This group offered 20,000 British pounds, equal today to about
$32,000 to anybody who could find a way to determine a ship’s longitude
within 30 nautical miles.

The offer paid off. The answer lay in knowing what time it is when you make
your sextant measurements. For example, say your Greenwich almanac predicts
that the sun is highest at noon. Your shipboard clock, synchronized to
Greenwich time when you left port, says it's 2 p.m. when your sextant measures
that event. Then you must be the equivalent of two hours west of Greenwich.

In 1761 a cabinetmaker named John Harrison developed a shipboard timepiece

called a chronometer, which lost or gained only about one second a day—
incredibly accurate for the time. For the next two centuries, sextants and
chronometers were used in combination to provide latitudes and longitudes.

In the early 20th century several radio-based navigation systems were

developed and used widely during World War II. Both allied and enemy ships
and airplanes used ground-based radio-navigation systems as the technology

A few ground-based radio-navigation systems are still in use today. One

drawback of using radio waves generated on the ground is that you have only
two choices:
a system that is very accurate but doesn’t cover a wide area; or
a system that covers a wide area but is not very accurate

High-frequency radio waves (like cell phones) can provide accurate position
location but can only be picked up in a small, localized area. Lower frequency
radio waves (like FM radio) can cover a larger area, but are not a good
yardstick to tell you exactly where you are.

Scientists, therefore, decided that the only way to provide accurate coverage for
the entire world was to place high-frequency radio transmitters in space. A
transmitter high above Earth would broadcast a high-frequency radio wave with
a special coded signal that could cover a large area and still reach Earth far
below at a useful power level. This is one of the main principles behind the
GPS system. It brings together 2,000 years of advances in navigation by
providing precisely located "lighthouses in space" that are all synchronized to a
common time standard.

The GPS system can tell you your location anywhere on or above Earth to
within about 20 to 30 feet. Even greater accuracy, usually within less than three
feet, can be obtained with "differential corrections" calculated by a special GPS
receiver at a known fixed location.

 What is GPS?

GPS—the Most Precise Navigation System Ever Invented

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, can show you your exact position on
Earth any time, anywhere, in any weather. The system consists of a
constellation of 24 satellites (with about 6 "spares") that orbit 11,000 nautical
miles above Earth’s surface and continuously send signals to ground stations
that monitor and control GPS operations.

GPS satellite signals can also be detected by GPS receivers, which calculate
their locations anywhere on Earth within less than a meter by determining
distances from at least three GPS satellites. No other navigation system has ever
been so global or so accurate.

First launched in 1978, the development of a global navigation system dates

back to the 1960s when The Aerospace Corporation was a principal participant
in the conception and development of GPS, a technology that has significantly
enhanced the capabilities of our nation’s military and continues to find new
uses and applications in daily life. We’ve helped build GPS into one of
history’s most exciting and revolutionary technologies and continue to
participate in its ongoing operation and enhancement.

 Elements of GPS

GPS has three parts: the space segment, the user segment, and the control
segment. The space segment consists of a constellation of 24 satellites (and
about six "spares"), each in its own orbit 11,000 nautical miles above Earth.
The user segment consists of receivers, which you can hold in your hand or
mount in a vehicle, like your car. The control segment consists of ground
stations (six of them, located around the world) that make sure the satellites are
working properly. The master control station at Schriever Air Force Base, near
Colorado Springs, Colorado, runs the system.

To help you understand GPS let’s discuss the three parts of the system—the
satellites, the receivers, and the ground stations—and then look more closely at
how GPS works.

o A Constellation of Satellites:

An orbit is one trip in space around Earth. GPS satellites each take 12 hours to
orbit Earth. Each satellite is equipped with an atomic clock so accurate that it
keeps time to within three nanoseconds—that’s 0.000000003, or three-
billionths, of a second—to let it broadcast signals that are synchronized with
those from other satellites.

The signal travels to the ground at the speed of light. Even at this speed, the
signal takes a measurable amount of time to reach the receiver. The difference
between the time when the signal is received and the time when it was sent,
multiplied by the speed of light, enables the receiver to calculate the distance to
the satellite. To make this measurement as accurate as possible, the GPS
navigation signals are specially designed to make it easy for GPS receivers to
measure the time of arrival and to allow all the satellites to operate on the same
frequency without interfering with each other. To calculate its precise latitude,
longitude, and altitude, the receiver measures the distance to four separate GPS
satellites. By using four satellites, the receiver calculates both its position and
the time and doesn't need an expensive atomic clock like those on the satellites.

o Receivers:

GPS receivers can be carried in your hand or be installed on aircraft, ships,

tanks, submarines, cars, and trucks. These receivers detect, decode, and process
GPS satellite signals. More than 100 different receiver models are already in
use. The typical hand-held receiver is about the size of a cellular telephone, and
the newer models are even smaller and fit in a wristwatch or a Personal Data
Assistant. The commercial hand-held units distributed to U.S. armed forces
personnel during the Persian Gulf War weighed only 28 ounces (less than two
pounds). Since then, basic receiver functions have been miniaturized onto
integrated circuits that weigh about one ounce.

o Ground Stations:

The GPS control segment consists of several ground stations located around the

• A master control station at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado
• Six unstaffed monitoring stations: Hawaii and Kwajalein in the Pacific
Ocean; Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean; Ascension Island in the
Atlantic Ocean; Cape Canaveral, Florida and Colorado Springs,
• Four large ground-antenna stations that send commands and data up to
the satellites and collect telemetry back from them.

The monitor stations track the navigation signals and send their data back to the
master control station. There, the controllers determine any adjustments or
updates to the navigation signals needed to maintain precise navigation and
update the satellites via the ground antennas. To further improve system
accuracy, in 2005, the master control station added data from six monitor
stations operated by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to the six GPS
monitor stations.

 GPS Applications

GPS has a wide range of applications. All of them fall under five basic
• Location
• Navigation
• Tracking
• Mapping
• Timing

Combining GPS with current and future computer mapping techniques would
enable us to identify and manage our natural resources. Smart vehicle location
and GPS navigation systems are GPS systems that would help us find efficient
routes to our destinations save a substantial amount of money and reduce air
pollution to a large extent. Businesses would be able to manage their resources
more efficiently, thus reducing consumer costs. Traveling aboard ships and
aircrafts will be safer in all weather conditions.

There are two 'public' Global Positioning Systems (GPS systems):

The NAVSTAR is a GPS device owned by the United States, it managed by the
NAVSTAR GPS Joint Program Office located at Los Angeles Air Force Base.
The civilian point of contact for the NAVSTAR system is the United States
Coast Guard's Navigation Center (NAVCEN). The GLONASS system is owned
by the Russian Federation. The point of contact for GLONASS information is
the Russian Space Forces' Coordinational Scientific Information Center (CSIC).

 How GPS Works?
The principle behind GPS is the measurement of distance (or “range”) between
the satellites and the receiver. The satellites tell us exactly where they are in
their orbits by broadcasting data the receiver uses to compute their positions. It
works something like this: If we know our exact distance from a satellite in
space, we know we are somewhere on the surface of an imaginary sphere with a
radius equal to the distance to the satellite radius. If we know our exact distance
from two satellites, we know that we are located somewhere on the line where
the two spheres intersect. And, if we take a third and a fourth measurement
from two more satellites, we can find our location. The GPS receiver processes
the satellite range measurements and produces its position.

GPS uses a system of coordinates called WGS 84, which stands for World
Geodetic System 1984. It allows surveyors all around the world to produce
maps like the ones you see in school, all with a common reference frame for the
lines of latitude and longitude that locate places and things. Likewise, GPS uses
time from the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., to
synchronize all the timing elements of the GPS system, much like Harrison's
chronometer was synchronized to the time at Greenwich.
Now you should have a fairly clear picture of the GPS system. You know that it
consists of satellites whose paths are monitored by ground stations. Each
satellite generates radio signals that allow a receiver to estimate the satellite
location and distance between the satellite and the receiver. The receiver uses
the measurements to calculate where on or above Earth the user is located.

• What's the signal?

GPS satellites transmit two low power radio signals, designated L1 and L2.
Civilian GPS uses the L1 frequency of 1575.42 MHz in the UHF band. The
signals travel by line of sight, meaning they will pass through clouds, glass and
plastic but will not go through most solid objects such as buildings and

A GPS signal contains three different bits of information - a pseudorandom

code, ephemeris data and almanac data. The pseudorandom code is simply an
I.D. code that identifies which satellite is transmitting information. You can
view this number on your Garmin GPS unit's satellite page, as it identifies
which satellites it's receiving.

Ephemeris data, which is constantly transmitted by each satellite, contains

important information about the status of the satellite (healthy or unhealthy),
current date and time. This part of the signal is essential for determining a

• The almanac data tells the GPS receiver where each GPS satellite should
be at any time throughout the day. Each satellite transmits almanac data
showing the orbital information for that satellite and for every other
satellite in the system.

 How GPS Is Used Today?

o Military Uses for GPS

Although the GPS system was completed only in 1994, it has already
proved to be a valuable aid to U.S. military forces. Picture the desert,
with its wide, featureless expanses of sand. The terrain looks much the
same for miles. Without a reliable navigation system, U.S. forces could
not have performed the maneuvers of Operation Desert Storm. With
GPS the soldiers were able to go places and maneuver in sandstorms or
at night when even the Iraqi troops who lived there couldn’t. More than
1,000 portable commercial receivers were initially purchased for their
use. The demand was so great that before the end of the conflict, more
than 9,000 commercial receivers were in use in the Gulf region. They
were carried by soldiers on the ground and were attached to vehicles,
helicopters, and aircraft instrument panels. GPS receivers were used in
several aircraft, including F-16 fighters, KC-135 aerial tankers, and B-52
bombers. Navy ships used them for rendezvous, minesweeping, and
aircraft operations.
GPS has become important for nearly all military operations and
weapons systems. It is also used on satellites to obtain highly accurate
orbit data and to control spacecraft orientation.

o GPS in Everyday Life

The GPS system was developed to meet military needs, but new ways to
use its capabilities in everyday life are continually being found. As you
have read, the system has been used in aircraft and ships, but there are
many other ways to benefit from GPS. We’ll mention just a few to give
you an idea of its many uses.
GPS is helping to save lives and property across the nation. In 2002, it
enabled rescuers to drill a shaft to free trapped miners in Somerset PA.
Many police, fire, and emergency medical-service units use GPS
receivers to determine the police car, fire truck, or ambulance nearest to
an emergency, enabling the quickest possible response in life-or-death
situations. GPS-equipped aircraft can quickly plot the perimeter of a
forest fire so fire supervisors can produce updated maps in the field and
send firefighters safely to key hot spots.

Mapping, construction, and surveying companies use GPS extensively.

During construction of the tunnel under the English Channel, British and
French crews started digging from opposite ends: one from Dover,
England, and one from Calais, France. They relied on GPS receivers
outside the tunnel to check their positions along the way and to make
sure they met exactly in the middle. Otherwise, the tunnel might have

been crooked. GPS allows mine operators to navigate mining equipment
safely, even when visibility is obscured.

Remember the example of the car with a video display in the dashboard?
Vehicle tracking is one of the fastest-growing GPS applications today.
GPS-equipped fleet vehicles, public transportation systems, delivery
trucks, and courier services use receivers to monitor their locations at all
times for both efficiency and driver safety.

Automobile manufacturers are offering moving-map displays guided by

GPS receivers as an option on new vehicles. The displays can be
removed and taken into a home to plan a trip. Several major rental car
companies have GPS-equipped vehicles that give directions to drivers on
display screens and through synthesized voice instructions. Imagine
never again getting lost on vacation, no matter where you are.

GPS-equipped balloons monitor holes in the ozone layer over the Polar
Regions as well as air quality across the nation. Buoys tracking major oil
spills transmit data using GPS to guide cleanup operations.
Archaeologists, biologists, and explorers are using the system to locate
ancient ruins, migrating animal herds, and endangered species such as
manatees, snow leopards, and giant pandas.

The future of GPS is as unlimited as your imagination. New applications

will continue to be created as technology evolves. GPS satellites, like
stars in the sky, will be guiding us well into the 21st century.

 GPS Timeline

• 1960
April 13 the first navigation satellite TRANSIT IB is launched for use by the
U.S. Navy to accurately locate ballistic missile submarines and ships.

May 15 Drs. Ivan Getting and Shep Arikin of Raytheon propose a radio-
navigation system called MOSAIC (Mobile System for Accurate ICBM
Control) to the U.S. Air Force.

June 3 The Aerospace Corporation is established "to aid the United States Air
Force in applying the full resources of modern science and technology to the
problem of achieving those continuing advances in ballistic missiles and
military space systems which are basic to national security." Dr. Ivan Getting
becomes the company's first president.

• 1963
Project 57 begins at The Aerospace Corporation. The study seeks to clarify
areas where space systems could be used for military applications. According to
Dr. Ivan Getting, it was "in this study that the concept for GPS was born."

Under the direction of the Air Force, the Project 57 study becomes Project
621B, and Aerospace is asked to continue its work on determining navigation
coordinates from satellite signals. Dr. Brad Parkinson notes that Project 621B
"had many of the attributes that you now see in GPS. It has probably never been
given its due credit."

• 1964-1966
Aerospace scientists and engineers conduct a series of satellite navigation
studies within the company’s Systems Planning Division. These studies arrive
at the operational concept for GPS as we know it today.

• 1972
November Air Force Col. Dr. Brad Parkinson is assigned by Gen. Ken Schultz
to manage the 621B program. Parkinson's recognition that a synthesis of three
competing satellite navigation proposals was needed marked the beginning of
the first real progress toward the eventual approval of GPS by the Defense

• 1973
April U.S. Navy TIMATION system and the Air Force System 621B 3d
navigation system combine in an effort to develop a Defense Navigation
Satellite System, which would later become NAVSTAR or GPS.

• 1974
August 17 the deputy secretary of defense suggests a program based on the
GPS concept be established, marking the start of the conception-validation
phase of the program.

• 1978
February 22 after an initial launch failure, the first the GPS Block I satellites is
launched. Block I comprised 10 developmental satellites launched from 1978 through

• 1983
May 20 The Air Force signs a $1.2 billion contract for the production of 28
GPS Block II satellites with Rockwell Space Systems.

September a Korean civilian airliner is shot down by Russian fighters after

accidentally intruding into Soviet air space. To prevent any such tragedy from
happening again, President Ronald Reagan declassifies NAVSTAR; GPS
becomes available to civilians.

• 1985
October 9 the last of the Block 1 satellites is launched.

• 1989
February 14 the first of the GPS Block II production satellites is launched.
From 1989 to 1997, 28 production satellites are launched; the last 19 satellites
in the series are updated versions, called Block IIA.

• 1990
December NAVSTAR GPS becomes operational.

• 1991
The Persian Gulf War enables American military forces to validate the
usefulness of GPS in combat situations. Although not fully operational, GPS
allows the military to obtain accurate coordinates in the featureless Iraqi desert
and to achieve a quick victory.

• 1992

The Aerospace Corporation, as part of the GPS team, receives the Collier
Trophy, the nation's most prestigious aeronautical award for the work it has
done developing GPS.

• 1994
January 17 the last of the Block IIA satellites is launched, completing the GPS

February 17 The Federal Aviation Administration announces that GPS is

operational an integrated as a part of the U.S. air traffic control system.

March 9 The Air Force announces the completion of the 24 Block II GPS
satellite constellation.

• 1995
April 27 Air Force Space Command declares the Block II NAVSTAR GPS
constellation fully operational.

• 1996
March 29 The National Security Council’s Office of Science and Technology
Policy detail a comprehensive national policy for the use and management of

• 1997
January 17 The Delta rocket carrying the first of the GPS Block IIR satellites
explodes after liftoff.

• 2001-2003
Military battles in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks and during
Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrate the precision of GPS in military conflict.

• 2003
October 11 Dr. Ivan Getting dies at the age of 91 at his home in Coronado,

• 2004
March Drs. Ivan Getting and Brad Parkinson are awarded the Charles Stark
Draper Prize by the National Academy of Engineering.

March 18 GPS satellite 2R-11 is dedicated to the late Dr. Ivan A. Getting, who
envisioned these “lighthouses in the sky serving all mankind.”A plaque
inscribed with his words is attached to the satellite.

May Drs. Ivan Getting and Brad Parkinson are inducted into the National
Inventors Hall of Fame.

• 2005
The first of GPS Block IIF satellites are scheduled to launch.

 The future of GPS availability

“GPS system ‘close to breakdown’: Network of satellites could begin to fail as

early as 2010” read the headline of the Online-Guardian from May 19th, 2009.
Similar news can be found in most mainstream media sources from the last two
months. As usual, however, there is a different story behind it, and this story is
far less scary than the catchy headlines suggest. To the credit of more serious
magazines, most articles have made the right statements at some point; but
unfortunately, without explaining what it really means, the headline leaves a
lasting impression with the reader. This originated with a published report by
the respected U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) called “Global
Positioning System: Significant Challenges in Sustaining and Upgrading
Widely Used Capabilities”. These reports can all be downloaded (see the
references section for the URL).

• Summary of the GAO Report

The three main points of the report [3] are:
1. “In recent years, the Air Force has struggled to successfully build
GPS satellites within cost and schedule goals … the current IIF satellite
program has overrun its original cost estimate by about $870 million and the
launch of its first satellite has been delayed to November 2009 — almost 3
years late.”

2. “Of particular concern is leadership for GPS acquisition, as GAO and

other studies have found the lack of a single point of authority for space
programs and frequent turnover in program managers have hampered
requirements setting, funding stability, and resource allocation.”

3. “If the Air Force does not meet its scheduled goals for development
of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as
old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the
number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S.
government commits to.”

GAO’s recommendation is for the Secretary of Defense to [3] “appoint a single
authority to oversee the development of GPS, including space, ground control,
and user equipment assets, to ensure these assets are synchronized and well
executed, and potential disruptions are minimized”.
Based on a worst-case scenario of predicted satellite failures, the author
published a graph within the report. Most articles refer to this graph, which
depicts the loss of aging satellites over the next few years:

Essentially, the graph depicts that the probability of having

at least 24 satellites in orbit will fall below the U.S.
government’s promise of 95%. This could occur between
2010 and 2014, and it could reach a low point of 80%.

• What does it mean?
First, this does not mean that it will occur. These are
purely probabilistic assumptions of a worst-case scenario.
There are many “ifs” and “coulds” involved, and most are
related to the probability of acquiring new satellites on
time, assuming that the old satellites will inevitably fail.
However, it is GAO’s duty to give early warnings to the
government to avoid potential damage. The probability
that this will actually happen is not very high; do not be
confused by the numbers. Today there are 31 satellites
available for GPS positioning.
This graph is actually not the focus of their concern — the
main problem is lack of leadership and cost overruns, not
the technical problems that are being highlighted now.
The operational life of satellites depends mostly on solar-
powered energy supplies. These devices tend to degrade
over time until they are no longer able to maintain all sub-
systems of the satellite. Shutting down select sub-systems
when they are not needed can significantly prolong the
life-span of a satellite.
The media has focused on the spectacular aspects of the
story, producing news that attracts attention without
explaining the “boring” technical details. But why should
anybody believe that the U.S. government will let this vital
military system fail when the problem can be solved with
money and man-power?

 The Latest GPS Systems

GPS systems are the newest in location technology that

can help you find your way without getting lost, and they
can also locate your vehicle if it is stolen. These systems
work by using satellites that are orbiting the earth to find
your exact location and then find the way to get where you
need to go. GPS stands for global positioning satellite and
at least three of the twenty four satellites that circle the
earth in orbit are needed to pinpoint exactly any given

GPS systems come in hand held models and built in

systems. Some cell phones, especially ones marketed for
kids, come with a GPS system that will allow parents to
locate their child through the cell phone. GPS car systems
can be very simple or very complex, depending on the
model you choose and these systems use a CD or DVD
with very detailed map information, as well as the GPS
receiver. If your car is stolen and it has a GPS system,
police can usually locate the missing vehicle within
minutes, which can lead to the apprehension of the
thieves. Some GPS systems will give you verbal directions,
and the more advanced systems can even upload traffic
information so that you can avoid road construction and
traffic backups or accidents.

These systems can be very convenient and a great time

saver, especially for anyone who gets lost easily or a lot.
The cost of the systems vary, depending on the model and
features you choose, and they can range from a couple
hundred dollars for a basic system with a single car to
thousands of dollars for businesses who have a lot of
business vehicles, or a GPS system which is loaded with
additional features and a top of the line name.