The Global Positioning System, otherwise known as GPS, is a radionavigation system powered by satellites that surround the globe. First launched in 1978, GPS allows for users to receive geolocation and time information with the use of a GPS receiver. As GPS systems have become widely available for consumer, commercial, and industrial sectors at low costs over the last couple decades, our ability to navigate the world has been revolutionized. As GPS navigation is commonly used for countless applications, understanding its history and use is extremely beneficial for anyone traveling long distances or in unfamiliar territory.
As a United States based project, the Global Positioning System was first launched in an effort to surpass the limitations of previous navigation systems. Originally, 24 satellites were sent to space, allowing for military forces to accurately determine their positioning for carrying out a number of operations. While the service was initially selective in its permitted users, GPS services were later extended for civilian use in 2000 in response to an executive order made by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Since then, GPS technology has rapidly evolved, allowing for users to even utilize mobile phones for precise position tracking. Additionally, 31 satellites now encircle Earth to provide more coverage as well.
For the satellite system to function accurately and provide users with data, it requires precise measurements of time and known position. Across all operating GPS satellites, atomic clocks with high stability are synced with one another and with ground clocks. To account for any time drifts that may occur, satellite atomic clocks are adjusted daily to maintain precision. For their communication with earth based GPS antennas and receivers, satellites constantly emit radio signals to the surface which contain information on its time and position. As radio signals are constant in their velocity, the distance between the satellite and a given receiver is always proportionate to the distance between the two. With multiple satellites often in range of a GPS antenna or receiver, the device can utilize readings from multiple satellite transmissions in order to calculate the precise position of the receiver and the exact time. For a GPS device to be as accurate as possible, it requires transmissions from at least four satellites. As there are only 31 satellites in orbit around commonly travelled areas, some places across the globe may feature less coverage and accuracy if there are less than four satellites in view.
With the capabilities of GPS navigation, countless industries and applications can benefit and improve their operations. Within the industrial sector, GPS software and tracking is often used for defense, automotive, and agriculture applications for tracking, navigation, and timing. For aviation, GPS software has allowed for pilots to further create flight plans, as well as adjust them easier in the case of rerouting. Furthermore, many civilians also enjoy the benefits of GPS for travelling, enabling one to direct themselves to unfamiliar locations in real time with ease. Altogether, GPS has radically changed how we traverse our world in regards to efficiency, safety, and ease.
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