How Does GPS Work?


GPS [Global Positioning System] is a system of 30+ navigation satellites circling around Earth. We know where they are since they regularly send signals. A GPS receiver in your phone or any other modern-day device listens for these signals. As soon as the receiver determines its range from three or even more GPS satellites, it can find out where you are.

GPS Sattelite

Human beings have actually looked to the skies to find their means since old times. Old seafarers made use of the constellations in the night skies to identify where they were as well as where they were going.

Today, all we need is a basic hand-held GPS (brief for Global Positioning System) receiver to figure out exactly where we are throughout the world. However, we still need things high overhead to identify where we are and exactly how we reach other places.

As opposed to stars, we use satellites. Over 30 navigation satellites are whizing about high above our Planet. These satellites can inform us specifically where we are


GPS is a navigation system. It’s comprised of 3 components: satellites, ground stations, and receivers.

Satellites imitate the stars in constellations– we understand where they are intended to be at any given time.

The ground stations utilize radar to make certain they are in fact where we assume they are.

A receiver, as you could have in your phone or in your vehicle, is regularly listening for a signal from these satellites. The receiver finds out exactly how far they are from some of them.

As soon as the receiver calculates its range from 4 or even more satellites, it knows exactly where you are. Like magic from miles up in outer space your place on the ground can be identified with unbelievable precision!

They can normally establish where you are within a couple of meters of your actual area. A lot more sophisticated receivers, though, can figure out where you are to within a couple of centimeters!

The ancient seafarers of old would be made speechless by the speed as well as ease of identifying your area today.

How does it Work:

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a navigating system using satellites, a receiver, and also algorithms to integrate location, speed, and also time data for air, the sea as well as land travel.

The satellite system contains a constellation of 24 satellites in 6 Earth-centered orbital rotations, each with 4 satellites, orbiting at 20,000 km over Earth and traveling at a rate of 14,000 km/h.

While we only require 3 satellites to locate a place on the earth’s surface, a fourth satellite is often utilized to confirm the information from the various other three. The fourth satellite likewise moves us into the third dimension as well as enables us to calculate the elevation of the GPS device.

What Makes up the GPS Network:

GPS is composed of three various elements, called segments, that interact to give location details.

The three sectors of GPS are:
  • Satellites – The satellites circling the Earth, beam to individual devices information on geographical placement as well as the time of day.
  • Ground Control – The Control element is composed of Earth-based monitor terminals, master control stations and also ground antenna. Control tasks include monitoring and also running the satellites in space and tracking transmissions. There are monitoring stations on almost every continent worldwide, including North and also South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.
  • User GPS Device – GPS receivers as well as transmitters including things like in-car navigation, dog trackers, watches, smartphones even mining equipment use the GPS network.

GPS Technology in Depth [How does it work]:

GPS implements a technology called a strategy called trilateration. Utilized to determine local area, speed, and altitude, trilateration collects signals from satellites to calculate location information. It is commonly mistaken for triangulation, which is made use of to determine angles, not distances.

Satellites orbiting the planet send signals that are received and translated by a GPS device, situated on or near the earth’s surface. To calculate accurate location, a GPS unit must have access to at least 4 satellites.

Each satellite in the network orbits around the planet twice a day, and also each satellite sends a unique coded signal, orbital rotation information, and also very accurate time. At any type of given point, a GPS unit can read the signals from six or even more satellites.

A single satellite broadcasts a microwave radio signal which is received by a GPS unit and made use of to determine the distance from the GPS unit to the satellite. Given that a GPS unit only supplies information concerning the range from a satellite, a single satellite can not supply very detailed location information. Satellites do not supply details about angles, so the position of a GPS unit could be anywhere on the planet’s surface.

When a satellite sends out a signal, it produces a circle with a radius determined from the GPS unit to the satellite.

When we add a 2nd satellite, it creates a 2nd circle, and also the place is limited to one of two points where the circles converge.

With a third satellite, the GPS unit area can lastly be identified, as the device is at the intersection of all 3 circles.

That said, we live on a three-dimensional planet, which implies that each satellite creates a ball, not a circle. The cross point of three balls creates 2 junctions, so the junction closest to earth is chosen.

As a GPS unit moves, the distance (distance to the satellite) changes. When the distance changes, new balls [spheres] are created, casuing the GPS to calculate a new location. We can utilize that information, combined with the time from the satellite, to identify speed, and determine the distance to our destination and the ETA.

Uses for GPS

GPS is a powerful as well as a reliable tool for companies and organizations in many different markets. Surveyors, researchers, pilots, watercraft captains, front line responders, as well as employees in mining and farming, are just some of the individuals that make use of GPS daily for their job. They use GPS information for preparing precise surveys as well as maps, taking the precise time information, tracking position or area, and also for navigating. GPS operates at all times as well as in almost all weather conditions.

The 5 main uses of GPS
  1. Navigation – The ability to move from one place to another
  2. Mapping – Generating Maps of the World
  3. Timing – Ability to make precise time measurements
  4. Location – Determining the precise location
  5. Tracking – Tracking Objects or personnel movement
Examples of GPS use cases include:
  • Emergency Response – During an emergency situation or natural catastrophe, front line responders use GPS for mapping, tracking, and predicting weather patterns, as well as keeping track of emergency workers. In the EU and also Russia, the eCall guideline depends on GLONASS technology (an alternate GPS system) and also telemetry to send information back to emergency control points in case of frontline responders vehicle accidents or other incidents, thus reducing response times. Find out more about GPS monitoring for frontline -responders.
  • Health and Fitness – Smartwatches and wearable innovation can track fitness task (such as running pace) and compare it against a similar demographic.
  • Entertainment – GPS can be incorporated right into games and activities like Pokémon Go and Geocaching.
  • Transportation – Logistics firms implement telemetry systems to enhance vehicle driver performance and safety. A vehicle tracker can be utilized to sustain course optimization, fuel reduction, motorist safety and security, and also compliance.
  • Building and construction, mining and also off-road trucking – From tracking equipment, to measuring as well asimproving asset allocation, GPS enables firms to improve their return on assets.

Other markets where GPS is made use of consist of: farming, autonomous cars, servicing, the military, mobile communications, protection, and fishing. I actually use a Drone with GPS mapping to create high resolution 2D and 3D maps for Prospecting.

High Resolution Drone Map of a Lease in WA showing Gold finds
Drone Mapping
High Resolution Drone Digital Terrain Model

GPS Accuracy

GPS device precision depends on numerous variables, such as the number of available satellites, the ionosphere, the metropolitan environment and also more.

Variables that can effect GPS accuracy include:
  • Man-Made Interference – Some examples are GPS jamming devices and spoofing devices.
  • Atmospheric Conditions – Ionospheric delays, thick cloud cover and solar storms can all influence GPS units.
  • Physical obstructions – Receiving time measurements can be altered by large mountains and other obstacles, like hills, buildings, trees, and also rain.
  • GPS numerical mistakes – This might occur due to firmware bugs or cheaper devices not fully adhering to the GPS specification.
GPS [green] + GLONASS [blue]

Accuracy has a tendency to be greater in open areas without any surrounding high buildings that can block signals. This result is known as an urban canyon. When a GPS unit is surrounded by large buildings, like in downtown Melbourne or Sydney, the satellite signal is first obstructed, and after that bounced off a structure, where it is ultimately received by the device. This can result in miscalculations of the satellite range to the GPS device, thus resulting in inaccurate location.

Fortunately, most technical challenges facing GPS modern technology have been identified and also are nearing resolution. Top-quality receivers provide far better than 2.2-meter z-axis precision [horizontal] in 95% of situations and much better than 3-meter accuracy in 99% of situations.

GPS History

Mankind has been practicing navigating for thousands of years utilizing the sun, moon, star constellations, and later on, the sextant. GPS was a development of the 20th century made possible by space-age innovation.

GPS technology has actually been made use of globally for more than 50 years The launch of Russia’s Sputnik I satellite in 1957 introduced the opportunity of geolocation abilities as well as soon after, the UNITED STATES Department of Defence began utilizing it for submarine navigating.

In 1983, the UNITED STATES federal government made GPS publically readily available, however still maintained control of the offered information. It wasn’t up until 2000 that companies and the public gained complete accessibility to making use of GPS, ultimately paving the way for better GPS innovation.

GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems)

The GPS system is considered to be a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)– meaning it is a satellite navigating system with worldwide surface coverage. Since 2020, there are two completely functional worldwide navigation satellite systems: the UNITED STATES navigation signal timing and ranging (NAVSTAR) GPS.

GNSS is a collective term for various kinds of satellite navigating systems used worldwide like GPS, GLONASS, Galileo as well as BeiDou and so on. GNSS based systems can access several satellite systems anytime to ensure for far better precision, redundancy and also availability.

Other countries are also competing to catch up. The EU, for instance, has been deploying Galileo, which is anticipated to go into full production by the end of 2020. China is likewise constructing the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, with 35 satellites intended to be in orbit by May 2020. Japan, as well as India, are likewise well on their way with their very own regional systems, the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) as well as the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), respectively.

GPS and the Future

Countries rapidly continue to develop and also make improvements to their GPS systems. Efforts around the world are being made to increase accuracy and boost reliability and GPS capabilities.

  • The next generation of GPS satellites will certainly include much better signal defense against signal manipulation, reduced sensitivity to signal jamming and even better ability to cover dead areas.
  • The launch of the new GPS III satellites will certainly improve GPS precision down to 1-3 meters, improve navigation capabilities, as well as longer-lasting devices as early as 2023. By transmitting on the L1C noncombatant signal for interoperability with other satellite systems.
  • Researchers as well as frontline workers are discovering brand-new ways to make use of GPS technology in natural catastrophe avoidance and evaluation in case of an earthquake, volcanic eruption, sinkhole or even avalanche detection. For the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists are evaluating using cellular phone location data to help with contact mapping in order to slow down the spread of the virus.
  • GNSS receivers are expected to reduce in size, be much more accurate, and more energy-efficient, as well as GNSS modern technology, is readied to penetrate even the most cost-sensitive GPS applications.
  • The National Aeronautics and Area Management’s (NASA) Deep Space Atomic Clock is set to make use of a powerful onboard GPS satellite to assist with providing far better consistency in time for future astronauts starting deep space journeys.

The future of GPS tracking will likely be even more precise and also more energy efficient for both personal and also company usage.

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As always stay safe