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Global Positioning System

FIVE logical Steps

  1. Triangulation from the satellite is the basis of the system.
  2. To triangulate, the GPS measures the distance using the travel time of the radio message.
  3. To measure travel time, the GPS need a very accurate clock.
  4. Once the distance to a satellite is known, then we need to know where the satellite is in space.
  5. As the GPS signal travels through the ionosphere and the earth’s atmosphere, the signal is delayed.

To compute a positions in three dimensions. We need to have four satellite measurements. The GPS uses a trigonometric approach to calculate the positions, The GPS satellites are so high up that their orbits are very predictable and each of the satellites is equipped with a very accurate atomic clock.

Components of a GPS
The GPS is divided into three major components

  • The Control Segment
  • The Space Segments
  • The User Segment

The Control Segment
The Control Segment consists of five monitoring stations (Colorado Springs, Ascesion Island, Diego Garcia, Hawaii, and Kwajalein Island). Three of the stations (Ascension, Diego Garcia, and Kwajalein) serve as uplink installations, capable of transmitting data to the satellites, including new ephemerides (satellite positions as a function of time), clock corrections, and other broadcast message data, while Colorado Springs serves as the master control station. The Control Segment is the sole responsibility of the DoD who undertakes construction, launching, maintenance, and virtually constant performance monitoring of all GPS satellites.

The DOD monitoring stations track all GPS signals for use in controlling the satellites and predicting their orbits. Meteorological data also are collected at the monitoring stations, permitting the most accurate evaluation of tropospheric delays of GPS signals. Satellite tracking data from the monitoring stations are transmitted to the master control station for processing. This processing involves the computation of satellite ephemerides and satellite clock corrections. The master station controls orbital corrections, when any satellite strays too far from its assigned position, and necessary repositioning to compensate for unhealthy (not fully functioning) satellites.

The Space Segment
The Space Segment consists of the Constellation of NAVASTAR earth orbiting satellites. The current Defence Department plan calls for a full constellation of 24 Block II satellites (21 operational and 3 in-orbit spares). The satellites are arrayed in 6 orbital planes, inclined 55 degrees to the equator. They orbit at altitudes of about 12000, miles each, with orbital periods of 12 sidereal hours (i.e., determined by or from the stars), or approximately one half of the earth’s periods, approximately 12 hours of 3-D position fixes. The next block of satellites is called Block IIR, and they will provide improved reliability and have a capacity of ranging between satellites, which will increase the orbital accuracy. Each satellite contains four precise atomic clocks (Rubidium and Cesium standards) and has a microprocessor on board for limited self-monitoring and data processing. The satellites are equipped with thrusters which can be used to maintain or modify their orbits.

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