GPS Technology

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, which each GPS receiver uses to calculate its three-dimensional location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) plus the current time.The space segment is composed of 24 to 32 satellites in medium Earth orbit and also includes 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.

Basic concept of GPS

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 time the message was transmitted
* Precise orbital information (the ephemeris)
* The general system health and rough orbits of all GPS satellites (the almanac).
The receiver utilizes the messages it receives to determine the transit time of each message and computes the distances to each satellite. These distances along with the satellites' locations are used with the possible aid of trilateration, depending on which 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, since 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[37] — the speed at which 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 plane 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.
The GPS design originally called for 24 Space Vehicles, 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.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, each Space Vehicles makes two complete orbits each sidereal day, repeating the same ground track each day.This was very helpful during development, since even with just four satellites, correct alignment means all four are visible from one spot for a few hours each day. For military operations.
As of March 2008 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.


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 used and a useful tool for commerce, scientific uses, tracking and surveillance. GPS's accurate timing facilitates everyday activities such as banking, mobile phone operations, and even the control of power grids. Farmers, surveyors, geologists and countless others perform their work more efficiently, safely, economically, and accurately.



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