Having reached the program’s requirements for Full Operational Capability (FOC) on July 17, 1995, the GPS completed its original design goals. However, additional advances in technology and new demands on the existing system led to the effort to modernize the GPS system. Announcements from the Vice President and the White House in 1998 initiated these changes, and in 2000 the U.S. Congress authorized the effort, referring to it as GPS III.

The project aims to improve the accuracy and availability for all users and involves new ground stations, new satellites, and four additional navigation signals. New civilian signals are called L2C, L5 and L1C; the new military code is called M-Code. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the L2C code is expected in 2008. A goal of 2013 has been established for the entire program, with incentives offered to the contractors if they can complete it by 2011.

While most clocks are synchronized to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the Atomic clocks on the satellites are set to GPS time. The difference is that GPS time is not corrected to match the rotation of the Earth, so it does not contain leap seconds or other corrections which are periodically added to UTC. GPS time was set to match Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in 1980, but has since diverged. The lack of corrections means that GPS time remains synchronized with the International Atomic Time (TAI).

The GPS navigation message includes the difference between GPS time and UTC, which as of 2006 is 14 seconds. Receivers subtract this offset from GPS time to calculate UTC and specific timezone values. New GPS units may not show the correct UTC time until after receiving the UTC offset message. The GPS-UTC offset field can accommodate 255 leap seconds (eight bits) which, at the current rate of change of the Earth’s rotation, is sufficient to last until the year 2330.

As opposed to the year, month, and day format of the Julian calendar, the GPS date is expressed as a week number and a day-of-week number. The week number is transmitted as a ten-bit field in the C/A and P(Y) navigation messages, and so it becomes zero again every 1,024 weeks (19.6 years). GPS week zero started at 00:00:00 UTC (00:00:19 TAI) on January 6, 1980 and the week number became zero again for the first time at 23:59:47 UTC on August 21, 1999 (00:00:19 TAI on August 22, 1999). To determine the current Gregorian date, a GPS receiver must be provided with the approximate date (to within 3,584 days) to correctly translate the GPS date signal. To address this concern the modernized GPS navigation messages use a 13-bit field, which only repeats every 8,192 weeks (157 years), and will not return to zero until near the year 2137.

The accuracy of a calculation can also be improved through precise monitoring and measuring of the existing GPS signals in additional or alternate ways.

The first is called Dual Frequency monitoring, and refers to systems that can compare two or more signals, such as the L1 frequency to the L2 frequency. Since these are two different frequencies, they are affected in different, yet predictable ways by the atmosphere and objects around the receiver. After monitoring these signals, it is possible to calculate and nullify that error.

Receivers that have the correct decryption key can relatively easily decode the P(Y)-code transmitted on both L1 and L2 to measure the error. Receivers that do not possess the key can still use a process called codeless to compare the encrypted information on L1 and L2 to gain much of the same error information. However, this technique is currently limited to specialized surveying equipment. In the future, additional civilian codes are expected to be transmitted on the L2 and L5 frequencies (see #GPS modernization, below). When these become operational, all users will be able to make the same comparison and directly measure some errors.

A second form of precise monitoring is called Carrier-Phase Enhancement (CPGPS). The error, which this corrects, arises because the pulse transition of the PRN is not instantaneous, and thus the correlation (satellite-receiver sequence matching) operation is imperfect. The CPGPS approach utilizes the L1 carrier wave, which has a period 1000 times smaller than that of the C/A bit period, to act as an additional clock signal and resolve the uncertainty. The phase difference error in the normal GPS amounts to between 2 and 3 meters (6 to 10 ft) of ambiguity. CPGPS working to within 1% of perfect transition reduces this error to 3 centimeters (1 inch) of ambiguity. By eliminating this source of error, CPGPS coupled with DGPS normally realizes between 20 and 30 centimeters (8 to 12 inches) of absolute accuracy.

Relative Kinematic Positioning (RKP) is another approach for a precise GPS-based positioning system. In this approach, determination of range signal can be resolved to an accuracy of less than 10 centimeters (4 in). This is done by resolving the number of cycles in which the signal is transmitted and received by the receiver. This can be accomplished by using a combination of differential GPS (DGPS) correction data, transmitting GPS signal phase information and ambiguity resolution techniques via statistical tests – possibly with processing in real-time (real-time kinematic positioning, RTK).



Augmentation methods of improving accuracy rely on external information being integrated into the calculation process. There are many such systems in place and they are generally named or described based on how the GPS sensor receives the information. Some systems transmit additional information about sources of error (such as clock drift, ephemeris, or ionospheric delay), others provide direct measurements of how much the signal was off in the past, while a third group provide additional navigational or vehicle information to be integrated in the calculation process.

Examples of augmentation systems include the Wide Area Augmentation System, Differential GPS, and Inertial Navigation Systems.

Since GPS signals at terrestrial receivers tend to be relatively weak, it is easy for other sources of electromagnetic radiation to desensitize the receiver, making acquiring and tracking the satellite signals difficult or impossible.

Solar flares are one such naturally occurring emission with the potential to degrade GPS reception, and their impact can affect reception over the half of the Earth facing the sun. GPS signals can also be interfered with by naturally occurring geomagnetic storms, predominantly found near the poles of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Man-made interference can also disrupt, or jam, GPS signals. In one well documented case, an entire harbor was unable to receive GPS signals due to unintentional jamming caused by a malfunctioning TV antenna preamplifier. Intentional jamming is also possible. Generally, stronger signals can interfere with GPS receivers when they are within radio range, or line of sight. In 2002, a detailed description of how to build a short range GPS L1 C/A jammer was published in the online magazine Phrack.

The U.S. government believes that such jammers were used occasionally during the 2001 war in Afghanistan and the U.S. military claimed to destroy a GPS jammer with a GPS-guided bomb during the Iraq War. Such a jammer is relatively easy to detect and locate, making it an attractive target for anti-radiation missiles.

Due to the potential for both natural and man-made noise, numerous techniques continue to be developed to deal with the interference. The first is to not rely on GPS as a sole source. According to John Ruley, “IFR pilots should have a fallback plan in case of a GPS malfunction”. Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring (RAIM) is a feature now included in some receivers, which is designed to provide a warning to the user if jamming or another problem is detected. The U.S. military has also deployed their Selective Availability / Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) in the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR). In demonstration videos, the DAGR is able to detect jamming and maintain its lock on the encrypted GPS signals during interference which causes civilian receivers to lose lock.



According to the theory of relativity, due to their constant movement and height relative to the Earth-centered inertial reference frame, the clocks on the satellites are affected by their speed (special relativity) as well as their gravitational potential (general relativity). For the GPS satellites, general relativity predicts that the atomic clocks at GPS orbital altitudes will tick more rapidly, by about 45,900 nanoseconds (ns) per day, because they are in a weaker gravitational field than atomic clocks on Earth’s surface. Special relativity predicts that atomic clocks moving at GPS orbital speeds will tick more slowly than stationary ground clocks by about 7,200 ns per day. When combined, the discrepancy is 38 microseconds per day; a difference of 4.465 parts in 1010. To account for this, the frequency standard onboard each satellite is given a rate offset prior to launch, making it run slightly slower than the desired frequency on Earth; specifically, at 10.22999999543 MHz instead of 10.23 MHz.

GPS observation processing must also compensate for another relativistic effect, the Sagnac effect. The GPS time scale is defined in an inertial system but observations are processed in an Earth-centered, Earth-fixed (co-rotating) system, a system in which simultaneity is not uniquely defined. The Lorentz transformation between the two systems modifies the signal run time, a correction having opposite algebraic signs for satellites in the Eastern and Western celestial hemispheres. Ignoring this effect will produce an east-west error on the order of hundreds of nanoseconds, or tens of meters in position.

The GPS includes a feature called Selective Availability (SA) that introduces intentional, slowly changing random errors of up to a hundred meters (300 ft) into the publicly available navigation signals to confound, for example, guiding long range missiles to precise targets. Additional accuracy was available in the signal, but in an encrypted form that was only available to the United States military, its allies and a few others, mostly government users.

SA typically added signal errors of up to about 10 meters (30 ft) horizontally and 30 meters (100 ft) vertically. The inaccuracy of the civilian signal was deliberately encoded so as not to change very quickly, for instance the entire eastern U.S. area might read 30 m off, but 30 m off everywhere and in the same direction. To improve the usefulness of GPS for civilian navigation, Differential GPS was used by many civilian GPS receivers to greatly improve accuracy.

During the Gulf War, the shortage of military GPS units and the wide availability of civilian ones among personnel resulted in a decision to disable Selective Availability. This was ironic, as SA had been introduced specifically for these situations, allowing friendly troops to use the signal for accurate navigation, while at the same time denying it to the enemy. But since SA was also denying the same accuracy to thousands of friendly troops, turning it off or setting it to an error of zero meters (effectively the same thing) presented a clear benefit.

In the 1990s, the FAA started pressuring the military to turn off SA permanently. This would save the FAA millions of dollars every year in maintenance of their own radio navigation systems. The military resisted for most of the 1990s, but SA was eventually “discontinued”; the amount of error added was “set to zero” at midnight on May 1, 2000 following an announcement by U.S. President Bill Clinton, allowing users access to the error-free L1 signal. Per the directive, the induced error of SA was changed to add no error to the public signals (C/A code). Selective Availability is still a system capability of GPS, and error could, in theory, be reintroduced at any time. In practice, in view of the hazards and costs this would induce for US and foreign shipping, it is unlikely to be reintroduced, and various government agencies, including the FAA, have stated that it is not intended to be reintroduced.

The US military has developed the ability to locally deny GPS (and other navigation services) to hostile forces in a specific area of crisis without affecting the rest of the world or its own military systems.

One interesting side effect of the Selective Availability hardware is the capability to correct the frequency of the GPS caesium and rubidium clocks to an accuracy of approximately 2 × 10-13 (one in five trillion). This represented a significant improvement over the raw accuracy of the clocks.