The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) developed by the United States Department of Defense and managed by the United States Air Force 50th Space Wing. It is the only fully functional GNSS in the world, can be used freely by anyone, anywhere, and is often used by civilians for navigation purposes. It uses a constellation of between 24 and 32 medium Earth orbit satellites that transmit precise radio wave signals, which allow GPS receivers to determine their current location, the time, and their velocity. Its official name is NAVSTAR GPS. Although NAVSTAR is not an acronym, a few backronyms have been created for it.
A GPS receiver
calculates its position by precisely timing the signals sent by the GPS satellites high above the Earth. Each satellite continually transmits messages containing the time the message was sent, precise orbital information (the ephemeris), and the general system health and rough orbits of all GPS satellites (the almanac). The receiver measures the transit time of each message and computes the distance to each satellite. Geometric trilateration is used to combine these distances with the location of the satellites to determine the receiver's location. The position is displayed, perhaps with a moving map display or latitude and longitude; elevation information may be included. Many GPS units also show derived information such as direction and speed, calculated from position changes.
It might seem three satellites are enough to solve for position, since space has three dimensions. However, even a very small clock error multiplied by the very large speed of light—the speed at which satellite signals propagate—results in a large positional error. Therefore receivers use four or more satellites to solve for x, y, z, and t, which is used to correct the receiver's clock. While most GPS applications use the computed location only and effectively hide the
very accurately computed time, it is used in a few specialized GPS applications such as time transfer, traffic signal timing, and synchronization of cell phone base stations.Although four satellites are required for normal operation, fewer apply in special cases. If one variable is already known (for example, a ship or plane may have known elevation), a receiver can determine its position using only three satellites. Some GPS receivers may use additional clues or assumptions (such as reusing the last known
altitude, dead reckoning, inertial navigation, or including information from the vehicle computer) to give a degraded position when fewer than four satellites are visible
Hand held GPS
The user's GPS receiver is the user segment (US) of the GPS. In general, GPS receivers are composed of an antenna, tuned to the frequencies transmitted by the satellites, receiver-processors, and a highly-stable clock (often a crystal oscillator). They may also include a display for providing location and speed information to the user. A receiver is often described by its number of channels: this signifies how many satellites it can monitor simultaneously. Originally limited to four or five, this has progressively increased over the years so that, as of 2007, receivers typically have between 12 and 20 channels. A typical OEM GPS receiver module measuring 15×17 mm.GPS receivers may include an input for differential corrections, using the RTCM SC-104 format. This is typically in the form of a RS-232 port at 4,800 bit/s speed. Data is actually sent at a much lower rate, which limits the accuracy of the signal sent using RTCM. Receivers with internal DGPS receivers can outperform those using external RTCM data. As of 2006, even low-cost units commonly include Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) receivers. A typical GPS receiver with integrated antenna.
Many GPS receivers can relay position data to a PC or other device using the NMEA 0183 protocol, or the newer and less widely used NMEA 2000. Although these protocols are officially defined by the NMEA, references to these protocols have been compiled from public records, allowing open source tools like gpsd to read the protocol without violating intellectual property laws. Other proprietary protocols exist as well, such as the SiRF and MTK protocols. Receivers can interface with other devices using methods including a serial connection, USB or Bluetooth.
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