The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver.
GPS was created and realized by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and was originally run with 24 satellites. It became fully operational in 1995. Bradford Parkinson, Roger L. Easton, and Ivan A. Getting are credited with inventing it.
The design of GPS is based partly on similar ground-based radio-navigation systems, such as LORAN and the Decca Navigator, developed in the early 1940s and used by the British Royal Navy during World War II.
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 and,
- Satellite position at time of message transmission.
The current GPS consists of three major segments. These are the Space Segment (SS), a Control Segment (CS), and a User Segment (US). The U.S. Air Force develops, maintains, and operates the space and control segments. GPS satellites broadcast signals from space, and each GPS receiver uses these signals to calculate its three-dimensional location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) and the current time.
GPS satellites transmit two radio signals. These are designated as L1 and L2. The L1 frequency (1575.42 MHz) carries the navigation message and the SPS code signals. The L2 frequency (1227.60 MHz) is used to measure the ionospheric delay by PPS equipped receivers. The signals travel by line of sight, meaning they will pass through clouds, glass, plastic etc. but will not travel through solid objects such as buildings and mountains.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is actually a constellation of 27 Earth-orbiting satellites (24 in operation and three extras in case one fails).
The GPS signal contains three different bits of information — a pseudo random code, almanac data and ephemeris data.
The navigational signals transmitted by GPS satellites encode a variety of information including satellite positions, the state of the internal clocks, and the health of the network. These signals are transmitted on two separate carrier frequencies that are common to all satellites in the network. Two different encodings are used: a public encoding that enables lower resolution navigation, and an encrypted encoding used by the U.S. military.