History of GPS


Measuring the movement of glaciers & volcanoes, detecting the location of icebergs, preventing transportation accidents, assisting search and rescue efforts, and hastening the delivery of emergency services and disaster relief has become easier as never before. The successful application of GPS technology has influenced all our lives in a distinct manner. GPS has changed the way people live and communicate. Its applications fall into categories such as timing, mapping, vehicle tracking, navigation, location etc.

Let us walk through the major milestones of GPS technology.

The History of GPS Technology

  • Raytheon Company created the technology used in GPS when United States Air Force acknowledged the need of an accurate guidance system. In 1960, Dr.Ivan Getting, a scientist who worked with the Raytheon Company left his position and started developing Global Positioning System. Getting developed the concept of three-dimensional GPS along with a group of scientists
    and aerospace engineers.
  • In 1957, the former U.S.S.R launched its first ever satellite, ‘Sputnik’amidst the space race and cold war that was hitting the country. U.S scientists started observing Sputnik and realized the fact that the satellite’s orbit can be traced listening to the changes in its radio frequency using the Doppler Effect. Actually Doppler Effect was previously used to explain why the pitch of a car’s horn alters due to the change in its speed.
  • In 1960, using the information and knowledge acquired from tracking Sputnik, the U.S Navy launched TRANSIT, the first satellite navigational system to assist the process of guiding the Navy’s fleet of ballistic missile submarines.
  • Later in 1967, Timation technique was developed by U.S Navy. This system used a highly consistent, synchronized clock in the satellite, a technique on which GPS is dependent. The first atomic clocks were put into orbit by 1974.
  • The development happened gradually and U.S Military was credited with launching the first four GPS satellites by the end of 1978. GPS Technology was accessible for U.S military only until the necessity arose to extend its use to civilians in 1983.This was due to the repercussions of a tragedy which occurred at that time. A civilian Korean Airplane with 269 passengers mistakenly entered Soviet airspace and was shot down, killing all passengers on board. A tragic incident indeed!
  • The first modern satellite was launched on Feb. 14, 1989 and the global positioning system was finished by July 17,1995 .

Features of this system

It consists of a constellation of twenty four 2,000-pound satellites and each move all the way round the world from 12,000 miles above the earth once every 12 hours. The satellites transmit their location and the exact time the signal was broadcasted to earth via radio signals and by gathering this information from four or more satellite’s signals, GPS receivers can determine their own speed, location, and elevation with great perfection – usually within a few meters or even less.

Further advancements

  • In 1996, President Bill Clinton issued a policy directive declaring that GPS was a dual-use system technology which can be used for both military and peaceful purposes.
  • The civilian demand for GPS Technology increased when U.S. military ended its practice of purposely blurring the signals for security needs in 2000.
  • GPS devices soon became popular with increasing demand from public and became cheaper over time.
  • Eventually, in 2004, President Bush further made it certain that the availability and accessibility of personal GPS units would be free of user fees for civilians.
  • After one year, the first modernized GPS satellite was launched. This modern satellite began transferring a second civil signal which provided an open access signal to civil users.

Expansion of personal GPS Units

  • Initially most cell phone companies were reluctant to develop phones using GPS technology regardless of the growing civilian demand for personal GPS units.
  • In 2006, Sprint turned out to be the first carrier to start using signal triangulation from cell-phone towers, creating an enlarged global positioning system.
  • It allowed family members to follow one another’s whereabouts, as long as every member has their cell phone on them. The system was called Family Locator Services. Many other carriers started following this.
  • 2014 marked the growth of social networking integrating GPS Technology providing various services.
  • Use of GPS becomes a standard in all cellular phones and automobiles with 4 out of 6 smart phone users utilizing some types of GPS Technology.

New applications of GPS are invented every day and are limited only by the human creativity!