Global Positioning System

satellite navigation system


The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a U.S. space-based radionavigation system that provides reliable positioning, navigation, and timing services to civilian users on a continuous worldwide basis -- freely available to all. For anyone with a GPS receiver, the system will provide location and time. GPS provides accurate location and time information for an unlimited number of people in all weather, day and night, anywhere in the world.


The GPS is made up of three parts: satellites orbiting the Earth; control and monitoring stations on Earth; and the GPS receivers owned by users. GPS satellites broadcast signals from space that are picked up and identified by GPS receivers. Each GPS receiver then provides three-dimensional location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) plus the time.


Individuals may purchase GPS handsets that are readily available through commercial retailers. Equipped with these GPS receivers, users can accurately locate where they are and easily navigate to where they want to go, whether walking, driving, flying, or boating. GPS has become a mainstay of transportation systems worldwide, providing navigation for aviation, ground, and maritime operations. Disaster relief and emergency services depend upon GPS for location and timing capabilities in their life-saving missions. Everyday activities such as banking, mobile phone operations, and even the control of power grids, are facilitated by the accurate timing provided by GPS. Farmers, surveyors, geologists and countless others perform their work more efficiently, safely, economically, and accurately using the free and open GPS signals.



Surveyors use GPS during surveying.


The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a U.S.-owned utility that provides users with positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services. This system consists of three segments: the space segment, the control segment, and the user segment. The U.S. Air Force develops, maintains, and operates the space and control segments.


* The space segment consists of a nominal constellation of 24 operating satellites that transmit one-way signals that give the current GPS satellite position and time.
* The control segment consists of worldwide monitor and control stations that maintain the satellites in their proper orbits through occasional command maneuvers, and adjust the satellite clocks. It tracks the GPS satellites, uploads updated navigational data, and maintains health and status of the satellite constellation.
* The user segment consists of the GPS receiver equipment, which receives the signals from the GPS satellites and uses the transmitted information to calculate the user’s three-dimensional position and time.


GPS Services


GPS satellites provide service to civilian and military users. The civilian service is freely available to all users on a continuous, worldwide basis. The military service is available to U.S. and allied armed forces as well as approved Government agencies.


A variety of GPS augmentation systems and techniques are available to enhance system performance to meet specific user requirements. These improve signal availability, accuracy, and integrity, allowing even better performance than is possible using the basic GPS civilian service.


The outstanding performance of GPS over many years has earned the confidence of millions of civil users worldwide. It has proven its dependability in the past and promises to be of benefit to users, throughout the world, far into the future.


The Future of GPS


Stand-Alone GPS Notional Horizontal Performance with New Signals


The United States is committed to an extensive modernization program, including the implementation of a second and a third civil signal on GPS satellites. The second civil signal will improve the accuracy of the civilian service and supports some safety-of-life applications. The third signal will further enhance civilian capability and is primarily designed for safety-of-life applications, such as aviation.



Aircraft navigation, international flights, airplane navigation


The Global Positioning System (GPS) has eliminated many of the hazards associated with common recreational activities by providing a capability to determine a precise location. GPS receivers have also broadened the scope and enjoyment of outdoor activities by simplifying many of the traditional problems, such as staying on the “correct trail” or returning to the best fishing spot.


Outdoor exploration carries with it many intrinsic dangers, one of the most important of which is the potential for getting lost in unfamiliar or unsafe territory. Hikers, bicyclists, and outdoor adventurers are increasingly relying on GPS instead of traditional paper maps, compasses, or landmarks. Paper maps are often outdated, and compasses and landmarks may not provide the precise location information necessary to avoid venturing into unfamiliar areas. In addition, darkness and adverse weather conditions may also contribute to imprecise navigation results.


Handheld GPS receiver unit GPS technology coupled with electronic mapping has helped to overcome much of the traditional hardships associated with unbounded exploration. GPS handsets allow users to safely traverse trails with the confidence of knowing precisely where they are at all times, as well as how to return to their starting point. One of the benefits is the ability to record and return to waypoints. Similarly, fishermen typically use GPS signals as a means to continually stay apprised of location, heading, bearing, speed, distance-to-go, time-to-go, chart plotting functions, and most importantly, returning to a location where the fish are plentiful.


An advantage in newer GPS receivers is the capability to transfer data to and from a computer. Outdoor enthusiasts can download waypoints from an exciting adventure and share them. An example of this is a web site based in Malaysia dedicated to GPS for mountain biking enthusiasts. Riders post waypoint files marking their favorite rides allowing other riders to try out the trails.


Golfers use GPS to measure precise distances within the course and improve their game. Other applications include skiing, as well as recreational aviation and boating.


GPS technology has generated entirely new sports and outdoor activities. An example of this is geocaching, a sport which rolls a pleasurable day outing and a treasure hunt into one. Another new sport is geodashing, a cross-country race to a predefined GPS coordinate.


GPS modernization efforts, designed to enhance more serious applications than recreation have provided direct and indirect benefits to the user. Various GPS augmentation systems that were developed in several countries for commerce and transportation are also being widely used by outdoor enthusiasts for recreational purposes. Modernization plans for GPS will result in even greater reliability and availability for all users, such as under a denser forest cover -- just the environment in which many adventurers most need this capability.


agriculture and farming GPS, planting and harvesting precision






GPS and Compasses | Geocaching | Topographic Maps