GPS: How Its Elements Work

Man on an navigation app

More known as GPS, the global positioning system can tell your location anywhere above or on the earth within 300 feet. Greater accuracy can be achieved within less than 3 feet by calculating correlations with a GPS receiver at a fixed location that is known. GPS data has numerous applications from fields such as fitness and health, marine and farming to aviation and surveying.

The data is explored by mapping density and movement and then using inertial simulation to monitor behavior. In aviation, for example, the simulation system relies on computers, motion sensors, and rotation sensors to calculate the position of a moving plane. To help you better understand the GPS system, here are its three major components:

The space segment

This part consists of 31 active satellites operated by the Air Forces. It also has four additional satellites that can be activated when necessary. At any moment, at least 24 satellites are working within a specified orbit, and at least four are simultaneously visible from any point on the earth. This gives the GPS its characteristic reliability as a navigation system.

The control segment

This part is made of many ground stations. They download data, interpret and relay signals from the satellites to different receivers. A typical ground station has a master controller, alternate master controller, 16 monitoring stations and 12 antennas.

The user segment

This is the part that you commonly interact with. It could be your phone, an airplane, a car tracker or any receiver across different industries. Typical civilian GPS’ are accurate up to 5 meters while other end-user systems such as commercial jet systems are accurate to a centimeter.

The solar-powered GPS satellites make one orbit every 12 hours while transmitting radio signals to receivers. The receiving stations produce data that gives the precise satellite position. On the end user side, the receiver gets data from atomic clocks in the satellites and uses it to calculate distance and time. It then uses this information to find a two-dimensional or three-dimensional location.