How Global Positioning System (GPS) Works

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As most of you know GPS is an acronym for Global Positioning System, but how does global positioning really work?

The Global Positioning System is a satellite-based navigation system, consisting of more than 20 satellites and several supporting ground facilities, which provides accurate, three-dimensional position, velocity, and time, 24 hours a day, everywhere in the world, and in all weather conditions.

The Global Positioning system consists of three main components:

  1. GPS Ground control stations.
    The ground control component includes the master control station at Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado Springs , Colorado and monitor stations at Falcon AFB, Hawaii , Ascension Island in the Atlantic , Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean , and Kwajalein Island in the South Pacific. The control segment uses measurements collected by the monitor stations to predict the behavior of each satellite's orbit and atomic clocks. The prediction data is linked up to the satellites for transmission to users. The control segment also ensures that GPS satellite orbits remain within limits and that the satellites do not drift too far from nominal orbits.

  2. GPS satellites.
    The space segment includes the satellites and the Delta rockets that launch the satellites from Cape Canaveral in Florida , United States . GPS satellites orbit in circular orbits at 17,440 km altitude, each orbit lasting 12 hours. The orbits are tilted to the equator by 55? to ensure coverage in polar regions. The satellites are powered by solar cells to continually orientate themselves to point the solar panels towards the Sun and the antennas towards the Earth. Each satellite contains four atomic clocks.

  3. GPS receivers
    When you buy a GPS, you are actually buying only the GPS receiver and get free use of the other two main components, worth billions of dollars - compliments of the Government of the United States . (If you don't have a GPS, BUY ONE NOW, before somebody finds a way to commercialize it and start charging for the service.)

The ground stations send control signals to the GPS satellites, The GPS satellites transmit radio signals and the GPS receivers, receive these signals and use it to calculate its position.

The calculations used to determine your GPS receiver's position is based on very small time differences, from when the satellite transmitted the signal, to, when the GPS receiver received the signal. These small differences are then used to calculate the distance from the receiver to the satellite. However, when receiving only one signal, we can only calculate how far away from the satellite we are. When receiving two signals, we can determine two likely positions where we are. We need three satellite signals to determine our exact position on the earth's surface. (2D/2 Dimensional positioning). When more than three satellites are 'visible' to the GPS receiver, it will also calculate the altitude of the receiver (3D/3 dimensional positioning).

Your GPS receiver requires signals from at least three satellites to determine your unique position on the earth's surface. With a fourth signal your altitude can also be determined. Receiving signals from more than four different satellites, the position of the GPS receiver can more accurately be determined.

The GPS satellite constellation is designed in such a manner as to guarantee that at least 4 satellites are visible from any place on earth at any moment in time. Most of the time (+95%) however, you should have at least 6 satellites visible. Many commercial GPS receivers can receive and process signals from 12 satellites for increased reliability and accuracy.

GPS satellites carry atomic clocks that measure time to a high degree of accuracy. The time information is placed in the codes broadcast by the satellite so that a receiver can continuously determine the time the signal was broadcast. The signal contains data that a receiver uses to compute the locations of the satellites and to make other adjustments needed for accurate positioning. The receiver uses the time difference between the time of signal reception and the broadcast time to compute the range to the satellite. The receiver must account for propagation delays caused by the ionosphere and the troposphere. With three ranges to three satellites and knowing the location of the satellite when the signal was sent, the receiver can compute its three-dimensional position.

To compute ranges directly, however, the user must have an atomic clock synchronized to the global positioning system. By taking a measurement from an additional satellite, the receiver avoids the need for an atomic clock. The result is that the receiver uses four satellites to compute latitude, longitude, altitude, and time.

Why should you use a GPS receiver? GPS receivers will become as commonplace as cell phones, very soon!

  • No more getting lost -
    Get to your destination on time. Have confidence when traveling - no more wondering which way, left or right.v
  • Ease of use
    It is easier to use a GPS receiver than to navigate by using a map. On the GPS screen you can see where you want to go, just like in a map, but you can also see where you are!

GPS receivers are going to replace traveling maps - GPS receivers are smaller to carry, easier to handle, much more versatile and updateable.

Personal navigation with a GPS also means you can customize maps as you go along - plotting points of interest and marking all those wonderful places in an easy, neat and ordered manner.

GPS receivers will also provide you with traveling support information, such as:

the estimated time of arrival (ETA) at your selected destination, how much fuel you have left (much more accurate than your fuel gauge in the car or truck)
Your true speed (with an accuracy of +/- 0.1 km/h).

Log your route as you travel to keep an accurate record of your traveling in case you need to trace back your steps. This is true for short hiking trips to routes of many hundreds of miles.

Time information on all GPS receivers are continuously adjusted from the atomic clocks used in the GPS system - the most accurate time and timing sources available today.

So you better get on board and start using, for free, all this billions of dollars worth of technology - with the compliments of the USA !