Space segment

11Jun07

The space segment (SS) is composed of the orbiting GPS satellites, or Space Vehicles (SV) in GPS parlance. The GPS design calls for 24 SVs to be distributed equally among six circular orbital planes. The orbital planes are centered on the Earth, not rotating with respect to the distant stars. The six planes have approximately 55° inclination (tilt relative to Earth’s equator) and are separated by 60° right ascension of the ascending node (angle along the equator from a reference point to the orbit’s intersection).

Orbiting at an altitude of approximately 20,200 kilometers (12,600 miles or 10,900 nautical miles; orbital radius of 26,600 km (16,500 mi or 14,400 NM)), each SV makes two complete orbits each sidereal day, so it passes over the same location on Earth once each day. The orbits are arranged so that at least six satellites are always within line of sight from almost everywhere on Earth’s surface.

As of April 2007, there are 30 actively broadcasting satellites in the GPS constellation. The additional satellites improve the precision of GPS receiver calculations by providing redundant measurements. With the increased number of satellites, the constellation was changed to a nonuniform arrangement. Such an arrangement was shown to improve reliability and availability of the system, relative to a uniform system, when multiple satellites fail.

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