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What is GPS | Global Positioning System overview

GPS is a satellite navigation system

GPS is funded by and controlled by the U. S. Department of Defense (DOD). While there are many thousands of civil users of GPS world-wide, the system was designed for and is operated by the U. S. military. GPS provides specially coded satellite signals that can be processed in a GPS receiver, enabling the receiver to compute position, velocity and time. Four GPS satellite signals are used to compute positions in three dimensions and the time offset in the receiver clock.

GPS positioning services specified In the federal radionavigation plan

Precise Positioning Service (PPS)
Authorized users with cryptographic equipment and keys and specially equipped receivers use the Precise Positioning System. U. S. and Allied military, certain U. S. Government agencies, and selected civil users specifically approved by the U. S. Government, can use the PPS. PPS Predictable Accuracy

  • 22 meter Horizontal accuracy
  • 27.7 meter vertical accuracy
  • 200 nanosecond time (UTC) accuracy
  • Standard Positioning Service (SPS)
    Civil users worldwide use the SPS without charge or restrictions. Most receivers are capable of receiving and using the SPS signal. The SPS accuracy is intentionally degraded by the DOD by the use of Selective Availability.
    SPS Predictable Accuracy

  • 100 meter horizontal accuracy
  • 156 meter vertical accuracy
  • 340 nanoseconds time accuracy
  • These GPS accuracy figures are from the 1999 Federal Radionavigation Plan. The figures are 95% accuracies, and express the value of two standard deviations of radial error from the actual antenna position to an ensemble of position estimates made under specified satellite elevation angle (five degrees) and PDOP (less than six) conditions.
        For horizontal accuracy figures 95% is the equivalent of 2drms (two-distance root-mean-squared), or twice the radial error standard deviation. For vertical and time errors 95% is the value of two-standard deviations of vertical error or time error.
        Receiver manufacturers may use other accuracy measures. Root-mean-square (RMS) error is the value of one standard deviation (68%) of the error in one, two or three dimensions. Circular Error Probable (CEP) is the value of the radius of a circle, centered at the actual position that contains 50% of the position estimates. Spherical Error Probable (SEP) is the spherical equivalent of CEP, that is the radius of a sphere, centered at the actual position, that contains 50% of the three dimension position estimates. As opposed to 2drms, drms, or RMS figures, CEP and SEP are not affected by large blunder errors making them an overly optimistic accuracy measure
        Some receiver specification sheets list horizontal accuracy in RMS or CEP and without Selective Availability, making those receivers appear more accurate than those specified by more responsible vendors using more conservative error measures.

    GPS Satellite Signals

    The SVs transmit two microwave carrier signals. The L1 frequency (1575.42 MHz) carries the navigation message and the SPS code signals. The L2 frequency (1227.60 MHz) is used to measure the ionospheric delay by PPS equipped receivers.
    Three binary codes shift the L1 and/or L2 carrier phase.

  • The C/A Code (Coarse Acquisition) modulates the L1 carrier phase. The C/A code is a repeating 1 MHz Pseudo Random Noise (PRN) Code. This noise-like code modulates the L1 carrier signal, "spreading" the spectrum over a 1 MHz bandwidth. The C/A code repeats every 1023 bits (one millisecond). There is a different C/A code PRN for each SV. GPS satellites are often identified by their PRN number, the unique identifier for each pseudo-random-noise code. The C/A code that modulates the L1 carrier is the basis for the civil SPS.
  • The P-Code (Precise) modulates both the L1 and L2 carrier phases. The P-Code is a very long (seven days) 10 MHz PRN code. In the Anti-Spoofing (AS) mode of operation, the P-Code is encrypted into the Y-Code. The encrypted Y-Code requires a classified AS Module for each receiver channel and is for use only by authorized users with cryptographic keys. The P (Y)-Code is the basis for the PPS.
  • The Navigation Message also modulates the L1-C/A code signal. The Navigation Message is a 50 Hz signal consisting of data bits that describe the GPS satellite orbits, clock corrections, and other system parameters.
  • GPS Techniques and Project Costs

    Receiver costs vary depending on capabilities. Small civil SPS receivers can be purchased for under $200, some can accept differential corrections. Receivers that can store files for post-procesing with base station files cost more ($2000-5000). Receivers that can act as DGPS reference receivers (computing and providing correction data) and carrier phase tracking receivers (and two are often required) can cost many thousands of dollars ($5,000 to $40,000). Military PPS receivers may cost more or be difficult to obtain.
        Other costs include the cost of multiple receivers when needed, post-processing software, and the cost of specially trained personnel.
    Project tasks can often be categorized by required accuracies which will determine equipment cost.

  • Low-cost, single-receiver SPS projects (100 meter accuracy)
  • Medium-cost, differential SPS code Positioning (1-10 meter accuracy)
  • High-cost, single-receiver PPS projects (20 meter accuracy)
  • High-cost, differential carrier phase surveys (1 mm to 1 cm accuracy)
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