What is GPS?


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The Global Positioning System, usually called GPS (the US military refers to it as NAVSTAR GPS — Navigation Signal Timing and Ranging Global Positioning System), is a satellite navigation system used for determining one's precise location and providing a highly accurate time reference almost anywhere on Earth or in Earth orbit. It uses an intermediate circular orbit (ICO) satellite constellation of at least 24 satellites.

The GPS system was designed by and is controlled by the United States Department of Defense and can be used by anyone, free of charge. The GPS system is divided into three segments: space, control and user. The space segment comprises the GPS satellite constellation. The control segment comprises ground stations around the world that are responsible for monitoring the flight paths of the GPS satellites, synchronizing the satellites' onboard atomic clocks, and uploading data for transmission by the satellites. The user segment consists of GPS receivers used for both military and civilian applications. A GPS receiver decodes time signal transmissions from multiple satellites and calculates its position by trilateration.

The cost of maintaining the system is approximately US$400 million per year, including the replacement of aging satellites. The first GPS satellite was launched in February 1978, and the most recent launch was in November 2004. The oldest GPS satellite still in operation was launched in February 1989.