GPS Just Got a Boost

15 Jul 2020

GPS is technology that’s decades old. It began in 1978 with the first (NAVSTAR) or Navigation System with a Timing and Ranging satellite in orbit. Then 24 satellites covered the world by 1993 in a way allowing the satellites to triangulate distances and locations.

The space exploration company, SpaceX, that Elon Musk heads, has just provided a boost to satellite navigation.

In June, the company launched a Falcon 9 rocket during its initial U.S. Space Force mission. At 4:10pm Est time on June 30, 2020, the rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida.

A Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite was on board. For the new GPS III project, the mission sent the third satellite up. This is a huge upgrade to the constellation individuals use worldwide to find their way.

This launch is a huge moment for GPS, which has become nearly omnipresent with the increase of the smartphone over the past 10 years. GPS is no longer used for military personnel only to find their location, but now supports a number of imaginative applications within and outside the military. For instance, the technology is used extensively for GPS fleet tracking applications, as well as for monitoring teen driving and as a safety resource for the elderly.

Joining a group of 31 other GPS satellites that circle the planet twice a day is the Lockheed Martin-built GPS III SV03 satellite.

It’s a more powerful and accurate satellite than the past GPS satellites. It enables using the newer L1C civilian GPS signal that allows international navigation systems use. This signal was created as a common signal for both the European Galileo and U.S. GPS systems to use. Chinese and Japanese satellites are also using similar signals.

The primary enhancement these satellites bring is being able to pinpoint a location within nine inches. GPS generation two satellites in the past could only pinpoint locations within 29 inches. Therefore, this will be a substantial enhancement once a complete gen threes network are orbiting the planet. Being able to get these third-gen satellites into orbit is increasingly becoming critical.

This gen-three satellite will make the third that goes into orbit since the year 2018 and seven more are being planned to launch, but the exact launch dates of the next few are still unknown. There is a mid-2023 deadline for all 10 to be orbiting. This is a fairly substantial update given GPS has become such an important part of civilian, business and military life today, with a multitude of applications.

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