GPS History : A Timeline of the Facts You Need
Today GPS is the driving force behind much technology in modern times, from finding our way to keeping tabs on which volcanoes are about to blow their tops. Find out more about this intricate system that we take for granted in this timeline of GPS history and how it has shaped the world as we know it.
Imagine this: you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and you suddenly realize you don’t have a clue where you are. What do you do? Chances are you’d pull out your phone, turn on your GPS, and not even give it a second thought.
Such peace and comfort weren’t available only a handful of years ago, before the creation of GPS. Instead, a map or two, or maybe more, would have been consulted, in the hope’s that you could figure out where you actually were.
You probably would have made some wrong turns and maybe even had to stop to ask someone for directions.
While GPS is an integral part of many peoples’ lives today, the common user likely knows little about the system they rely on.
From its origins, GPS was meant to accomplish great things, but it wasn’t until 2000 that it really took the U.S. by storm.
Looking to learn some GPS history? We’ve got you covered! Read on to learn more about where the system came from, who developed it, and how it became what we know and love today.
Origin: The Beginning of GPS History
When Russia launched their satellite Sputnik in 1957, the U.S. may have been disappointed, but the launch gave way to a major American invention: GPS.
After Sputnik was launched, scientists at MIT made an interesting discovery: the radio signals produced by the satellite changed as the satellite moved closer or farther away.
This information gave way to the idea that satellites could be tracked from the ground using their radio signals. It also followed that items could be located on the ground by measuring their distance from the satellites.
From these ideas was born the GPS system we have today.
What is GPS?
Before continuing, let’s define what we’re actually talking about. What, exactly, is GPS?
GPS, short for “Global Positioning System,” is a system that uses radio signals to determine the location of items. Through the use of receivers, satellites, and ground stations, the system is able to tell us this information.
Through this system, people, freight, animals, and more can be located. The way to get from one point to another and how long it will take can also be determined using GPS.
How Does GPS Work?
GPS receivers located on earth learn their location, speed, and elevation from radio signals received from satellites. These receivers are located in items such as cell phones and vehicles.
Satellites send regular signals, and receivers constantly listen for these signals.
Ground stations on earth keep track of satellites so we know exactly where they are. They also ensure that they are where we expect them to be.
As a receiver receives signals from satellites, it measures the distance from at least four of these satellites to determine exactly where you are. More than 30 satellites are positioned above the earth to help with GPS location.
This system had a high degree of accuracy and should be able to tell you your location within only a few yards of your exact point. Some higher-end receivers can tell you your location within inches!
GPS can be used to track or locate just about anything, from rental cars to animals.
The Dates: A GPS History Timeline
GPS has changed drastically from when it was originally conceptualized. Here’s a brief overview of some of the significant dates in GPS history.
1957: Russia launches Sputnik. The satellite gives MIT scientists the idea for a positioning system based on radio signals.
1959: The U.S. Navy builds TRANSIT, the first navigation system to really rely on satellites.
1963: A study is completed by the Aerospace Corporation for the U.S. Military. This proposed the idea for satellites to send continuous signals to receivers to locate moving vehicles on earth and in the air. This marks the beginning of the system we know today.
1974: Testing begins on the Military-created GPS system NAVSTAR. The proposed NAVSTAR system included 24 satellites.
1978-1985: Testing continued on the NAVSTAR system. During this period, the system begins to be referred to as simply “The GPS System.” By this point, atomic clocks had been added to help provide more precise measurements.
1983: In response to Russia shooting down a plane, President Ronald Reagan offers GPS services to all commercial aircraft once the system is completed. This was offered to enhance safety.
1985: The U.S. Government begins contracts with private companies to develop GPS receivers.
1989: The first fully-operational GPS satellite is launched into space by the U.S. Air Force.
1989: Hand-held navigation devices appear in the US market. Magellan NAV 1000 is thought to be the first.
1995: The last of 27 satellites is launched. Three of these were to be used as spares for when repairs needed to be made. These satellites were specifically positioned so at least four would be visible from any place on earth at all times.
1999: GPS-enabled cell phones become commercially available for the first time.
2000: The U.S. Government revokes a plan from 1990 that purposely made GPS less accurate as a defensive mechanism. As accuracy skyrocketed, many industries, including forestry, fishing, and freight management, started using GPS.
2001: Personal GPS products surge, including in-car navigation systems.
A System of Historic Proportions
The use of GPS boomed in 2000, and since then the system has played a large role in many peoples’ lives. Very few would reach for a handful of maps over their phone, these days.
GPS history tells the story of one system that has vastly impacted our social lives. You likely use GPS yourself, whether for tracking children, gaming with friends, locating animals, or something else.
Whatever you’re looking to keep track of, we offer plans that are affordable and convenient. Visit our website today to get started!