The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defence. GPS works in any weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.
GPS satellites circle the earth in a very precise orbit and transmit signal information to earth.
GPS receivers take this information and use triangulation to calculate the user's exact location. Essentially, the GPS receiver compares the time a signal was transmitted by a satellite with the time it was received. The time difference tells the GPS receiver how far away the satellite is.
A GPS receiver must be locked on to the signal of at least three satellites to calculate a 2D position (latitude and longitude) and track movement. With four or more satellites in view, the receiver can determine the user's 3D position (latitude, longitude and altitude). Once the user's position has been determined, the GPS unit can calculate other information, such as speed, bearing, track, trip distance, distance to destination, sunrise and sunset time and more.
Users can improve the accuracy with Differential GPS (DGPS), which corrects GPS signals to within an average of three to five meters. In order to get the corrected signal from a DGPS correction service, users must have a differential beacon receiver and beacon antenna in addition to their GPS.
Their are 24 satellites that make up the GPS space segment, orbiting the earth about 12,000 miles above us. They are constantly moving, making two complete orbits in less than 24 hours. These satellites are travelling at speeds of roughly 7,000 miles an hour.
GPS satellites transmit two low power radio signals, designated L1 and L2. Civilian GPS uses the L1 frequency of 1575.42 MHz in the UHF band. The signals travel by line of sight, meaning they will pass through clouds, glass and plastic, but will not go through most solid objects such as buildings and mountains.
A GPS signal contains three different bits of information - a pseudorandom code, ephemeris data and almanac data.
1 The pseudorandom code is an I.D. code that identifies which satellite is transmitting information.
2 Ephemeris data, which is constantly transmitted by each satellite, contains important information about the status of the satellite (healthy or unhealthy), current date and time.
3 The almanac data tells the GPS receiver where each GPS satellite should be at any time throughout the day. Each satellite transmits almanac data showing the orbital information for that satellite and for every other satellite in the system.