by Mark Ollig
Every day, an estimated 1 billion people use the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites in orbit above the Earth.
These satellites orbit our planet at an altitude of about 12,500 miles, and travel approximately 8,700 mph.
Having a personal GPS device is like having an intelligent, electronic navigational roadmap companion.
In our automobile, it visually (and audibly) updates us of our current location as we travel to our destination.
The GPS screen displays street graphics, points of interest, and provides us with real-time navigational assistance.
A variety of GPS devices are available; many include voice prompts, text-to-speech, and voice recognition.
Three common GPS civilian brands used are made by Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom.
I found GPS devices range in price from about $100 to well over $1,000.
The average GPS display screens are sized from about 4 to 7 inches. They are available in portable handheld units, or they can be permanently wired into to an automobile, or plugged into its AC adapter.
GPS access is available in our mobile devices, too, as a navigational app. You can even buy a GPS device to wear on your wrist.
Trucking companies use GPS for tracking deliveries and determining pickup times. When an order comes in, the dispatcher uses a computer to display a map listing available delivery trucks, with detailed information on their status and current location.
Most communication networks, banking systems, financial markets, bank ATMs, and power grids use GPS technology.
GPS technology is implanted in practically every U.S. military resource, rendering our armed forces more effective.
Originally, GPS started out as being used exclusively for the US military.
That changed in May 2000, when President Clinton ordered the US military to stop scrambling the signals coming from the GPS satellite network. This allowed GPS navigational information to become available for all of us.
This action directly benefitted motorists, boaters, and hikers.
Of course, 13 years later, GPS technology has found a variety of new uses.
“GPS-based applications in precision farming are being used for farm planning, field mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and yield mapping. GPS allows farmers to work during low visibility field conditions, such as rain, dust, fog, and darkness,” stated the US government’s GPS website.
Crop dustering planes equipped with GPS can fly precise, accurate lines over a crop field; spraying chemicals only where needed.
Surveyors use GPS technology to obtain accurate topography mappings.
GPS-based data collection methods save time and labor. Today, a single surveyor using GPS technology can accomplish, in one day, what had previously taken surveying teams, using conventional surveying methods, weeks to do.
Other benefits of the GPS includes providing emergency personnel with the information needed to locate people in stranded vehicles equipped with a GPS device, or even a lost hiker, using their mobile device’s embedded GPS functionality.
GPS has become an integral part of today’s modern emergency response – whether helping find people in search-and- rescue operations caused by floods or other storm-related weather situations, or guiding emergency vehicles to a specified location.
I consider GPS as much a part of our technological infrastructure as the Internet.
In space, using GPS tracking instead of total reliance on ground-based radar is another benefit.
“GPS is transforming the way nations operate in space – from guidance systems for the International Space Station’s return vehicle to the control of communication satellites to entirely new forms of Earth remote sensing. When all is said and done, the power and compass of this new tool will surely surpass what we can imagine now,” said Dr. Tom Yunck, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The current GPS satellites in orbit have proved very beneficial – but they are aging.
Newer technology cannot be installed in these satellites.
Lockheed Martin, an advanced technology maker, in cooperation with the US Air Force, is creating the next generation of GPS satellites.
This next generation of cutting-edge tracking satellites is called GPS III. They are being assembled inside a newly-constructed facility in Denver, CO
GPS III satellites will have three times the accuracy, more powerful signaling, increased Earth coverage, and improved efficiencies for military and civilian use.
These new GPS satellites will incorporate programmable flexibility, so future technology enhancements can be uploaded into them from the ground.
A new onboard payload called “Search and Rescue GPS” will support global search-and-rescue efforts.
Each GPS III satellite measures a little over 8 feet wide, almost 6 feet deep, and is a little over 11 feet high.
The GPS III satellite will have 307 feet of deployable solar panel arrays; with two panels being attached on each side.
Nickel-hydrogen rechargeable batteries will power the satellite.
A GPS III satellite can adjust its orbital course via its thrusters using a 100-pound liquid apogee engine.
The GPS III satellites are to be placed 10,898 nautical miles above the Earth.
A new international civil signal (L1C), designed to be interoperable with other country’s global navigational satellite systems, will also be a part of GPS III.
The new satellites will be tracked and controlled while in orbit by a telemetry tracking and command system on Earth.
The new satellites are designed to last 15 years.
The first GPS III satellite is scheduled to be launched in 2014.
About 32 new satellites are planned to be in orbit by 2019.
The government’s official GPS website is packed with information, check it out at http://www.gps.gov.