What is GPS and How It Works?

Rose India Technologies is a knowledge hub of latest technologies and advanced app developer with state of the art technologies. In this article we have introduced GPS definition, various interesting facts, its architecture and wide range of applications it is presently being used with.

What is GPS and How It Works?

Global Positioning System (GPS) is a modern navigation and location tracking technology that works based on the satellite signals. This navigation system consists of a cluster 24 satellites placed on the orbit around the earth. Originally the technology was conceived, developed and deployed by the U.S. Department of Defense expressly for military applications. GPS is capable to work 24 hours a day in any climatic or weather conditions on any place on earth’s surface.

Though US Department of Defense started their research on the technology way back in 1960s, it took more than a decade to come up with the network of 24 satellites which have been placed in 1973. Though it was then used for military purpose within a decade the government made GPS system accessible for civilian purposes. GPS as we know it today has become active with the fully operational satellites from 1994.

How it works

GPS satellites move around the earth in a circle twice a day following precise orbit path and deliver positional information to receptive devices on earth. GPS receivers after receiving the signal information make them subject to a process called trilateration for precise calculation of the exact location and position of the user. By comparing the transmission time of a signal with the receiving time GPS receiver calculates the distance of the object from the satellite. This measurement of distance carried out in relation to the position of several satellites, the precise and correct position of the user’s position is determined and it is displayed on the electronic map of the signal receiving device.

A GPS receiver for having a 2D positional view (referring to latitude and longitude) and track movement of the object needs to analyze signal distance from at least 3 satellites, while four or more number of satellites are needed for accurate determination of the user's 3D position and view (referring to latitude, longitude and altitude). After determining the precise location and position information, other vital information regarding the object is calculated like speed, look, gait, trip distance, distance from the destination, atmospheric information, time of the day or night, etc.

How accurate is GPS?

As far as accuracy and precision are considered GPS technology in its present avatar offers extremely accurate positioning information as for tracking an object multiple satellite signals are tracked and analyzed. The parallel multi-channel design of the present day GPS tracking systems rapidly lock onto dozens or more satellites as soon as they are turned on. In spite of densely populated urban areas with numerous skyscrapers present day devices offer unfailing signal strength with strong locks. Though, it must be admitted that a few challenging atmospheric factors and erroneous aspects sometimes can make the accuracy of positioning information suffer, but with the rapid proliferation and strengthening of GPS technology such instances are increasingly becoming rare.

The GPS satellite system

Only network of 24 space satellites make the core GPS system in the space responsible for sending signals to receivers on the earth. These satellites are orbiting around the earth and is placed somewhere around 12,000 miles above the earth’s surface. These constantly orbiting satellites are completing two rounds of orbits within 24 hours. The orbiting speed of these satellites is nearly 7,000 miles per hour.
As for energy they depend on solar energy and for situations like solar eclipse every satellite has onboard backup batteries installed. To ensure making them orbit around the earth in the precise path small rocket boosters have been used.

Interesting facts about GPS system

Today, from mobile devices to location trackers in vehicle to distant monitoring systems used across industries, GPS systems are practically everywhere. It took more than four long decades to come up with this revolutionary position tracking system. After being conceptualized and focused as a key defense research project by the U.S. Department of Defense back in 1960s the technology continued to make breakthroughs in space, military applications and civil practical usage. Here are some interesting facts about GPS.

  • Ground radio navigation system, the earliest predecessor of GPS was first conceptualized and made to use by British Royal Navy back in 1940s during the World War II.

  • The first satellite navigation system was Transit which was used by US Navy in 1960s.

  • US Navy developed a new navigation satellite named Timation in 1967 which used the placing of accurate clocks in space, a technology similar to forthcoming GPS.

  • The first GPS satellite was placed in the orbit in 1978.

  • A full network of 24 GPS satellites was placed on the orbit and became operational in 1994.

  • Each satellite is estimated to last for a decade or so and routinely non-functional satellites are replaced with newer ones.

  • Typically a GPS satellite has an approximate weight of 2,000 pounds and covers an area of around 17 feet with the extended solar panels.

Applications of GPS systems

The widespread availability and precision of GPS systems in determining positions moving objects and the inexpensive receiver chipsets, has contributed to the wide number of civilian applications running with GPS. Let us introduce here some of the common GPS applications in everyday life.

  • Transport: As per the sales figure indicate of GPS receivers, road transport applications are the biggest beneficent from this technology.  From commercial fleet management to tracking freight movement to navigating public transport like taxi services, passenger information and public transport monitoring, emergency tracking of vehicle location, etc. are the most common applications of GPS. A vast majority of automobile manufacturers and private taxis these days are coming equipped with GPS tracking system.

  • Aviation: In most commercial aircraft now GPS is extensively used for route navigation and precise determining of specified airfields. In aviation GPS is also used extensively for Automatic Dependent Surveillance ‑ Broadcast (ADS‑B) technology in air traffic control.
  • UAV: GPS is also the most used navigation technology in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). For all sorts of resource mapping and aerial survey with UAVs GPS based imaging is broadly dependent upon.

  • Shipping: Maritime applications like offshore, in-sea and inshore navigation, dredging, docking, port approaching, cargo handling, harboring, etc GPS is widely adopted as the dependable navigation technology.  

  • Rail transport: In train transport applications like rolling stock management, passenger tracking, prevention of risks like doors being opened before the carriage reaches the platform, cargo tracking, etc. GPS is widely used now.

  • Scientific applications and research: Scientific applications utilize GPS based remote navigation control widely in environmental monitoring, studies in animal behavior, monitoring plant health and botanical specimen, meteorological and climatic research. GPS is also extensively used in agriculture and fisheries mapping area, monitoring the plantation and yield, controlling autonomous vehicles and irrigation, etc.

  • Security: The use of GPS in security applications is widespread including vehicles tracking, tracking containers and cargo and preventing damage and threats through monitoring.

  • Heavy engineering: GPS is widely used to provide guidance to vehicles and machineries used in engineering applications like construction, heavy manufacturing and mining.  GPS can provide effective guidance to control systems of excavators, graders, bulldozers and paving machines.

  • Telecommunications: In telecommunication GPS timing helps enabling synchrony among various clocks for effective operation across various locations.

  • Financial Services: The precise timing required to control, monitor and efficient operation in global financial systems can be ascertained by precision driven GPS technology. GPS based timing is used to deliver precise time stamps on any transaction.

  • Social activities: In a whole array of social activities and interactions inexpensive hand-held GPS receiver handsets are being used. In-car navigation, GPS-based social networking to geo-tagging of photographs to taking help of GPS guide map in mobile device for cross country cycling and sport activities, in numerous ways GPS is increasingly being part of our day to day life.

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