Global Positioning System

11Jun07

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is currently the only fully functional Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). Utilizing a constellation of at least 24 medium Earth orbit satellites that transmit precise microwave signals, the system enables a GPS receiver to determine its location, speed and direction.

Developed by the United States Department of Defense, it is officially named NAVSTAR GPS (Contrary to popular belief, NAVSTAR is not an acronym for NAVigation Satellite Timing And Ranging, but simply a name given by Mr. John Walsh (no relation to John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted), a key decision maker when it came to the budget for the GPS program). The satellite constellation is managed by the United States Air Force 50th Space Wing. The cost of maintaining the system is approximately US$750 million per year, including the replacement of aging satellites, and research and development. Despite this fact, GPS is free for civilian use as a public good.

GPS has become a widely used aid to navigation worldwide, and a useful tool for map-making, land surveying, commerce, and scientific uses. GPS also provides a precise time reference used in many applications including scientific study of earthquakes, and synchronization of telecommunications networks.

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