GPS – Global Positioning System

Short for Global Positioning System, a worldwide MEOsatellite navigational system formed by 24 satellites orbiting the earth and their corresponding receivers on the earth. The satellites orbit the earth at approximately 12,000 miles above the surface and make two complete orbits every 24 hours. The GPS satellites continuously transmit digital radio signals that contain data on the satellites location and the exact time to the earth-bound receivers. The satellites are equipped with atomic clocks that are precise to within a billionth of a second. Based on this information the receivers know how long it takes for the signal to reach the receiver on earth. As each signal travels at the speed of light, the longer it takes the receiver to get the signal, the farther away the satellite is. By knowing how far away a satellite is, the receiver knows that it is located somewhere on the surface of an imaginary sphere centered at the satellite. By using three satellites, GPS can calculate the longitude and latitude of the receiver based on where the three spheres intersect. By using four satellites, GPS can also determine altitude.

GPS was developed and is operated by the U.S. Department of Defense. It was originally called NAVSTAR (Navigation System with Timing and Ranging). Before its civilian applications, GPS was used to provide all-weather round-the-clock navigation capabilities for military ground, sea, and air forces.

GPS has applications beyond navigation and location determination. GPS can be used for cartography, forestry, mineral exploration, wildlife habitation management, monitoring the movement of people and things and bringing precise timing to the world.

Webopedia Staff
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