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The basic requirement of GPS is that there must be 4 satellites transmitting coded signals from known positions. 3 satellites are required to provide the 3 distance measurements and 4th to remove receiver clock error. The GPS receiver separates individual GPS satellites using a unique C/A code that is allocated to each satellite.

Satellite signal acquisition

The GPS receiver must find the starting time of the unique C/A code for each of the 4 satellites. This is done by correlating the received signal with stored C/A code. Usually the receiver will automatically select the 4 strongest signals and correlate to those.

If the receiver is making a cold start ,with no information about the current position of GPS satellites,or its own location ,it must search all 37 C/A codes until it can correlate with one. Once correlation is obtained ,the data stream (called navigation message) from that satellite can be read by the receiver. The data stream contains information about adjacent satellites ,so once correlated ,the receiver no longer needs to search through all other 36 possible codes to find the next satellite ;it can go directly to correct the code. Searching all 36 C/A codes of 1023 bits for correlation is a slow process.

The receiver locks to a given code by matching the locally generated code to the code received from the wanted satellite. Since the start time of the code transmitted by satellite is not known when receiver commences the locking process,an arbitary start point must be selected. The locally generated code is compared ,bit by bit,through all 1023 bits of the sequence ,until either lock is found,or the receiver concludes that this is not the correct code for the satellite signal it is receiving

If the starting time for the locally generated code was not selected correctly,correlation will not be obtained immediately. Then locally generated code is moved one bit in time,and correlation is attempted again. The process is continued 1023 times until a possible starting times for the locally generated code have been tried. If the satellite with that particular C/A is not visible,no correlation will occur and lock will not be achieved. It takes a minimum of 1s to search all 1023bit positions of a 1023 bit C/A code,so it will take atleast 15s to acquire the first satellite.

Although it takes only 20s on average to lock to the C/A code of one satellite , the receiver must find the doppler frequency offset for atleast one satellite before correlation can occur. The receiver bandwidth is matched to the bandwidth of C/A code. There are 8 possible dopplershifts for each signal and 1023 possible code positions ,giving 8184 possible signal states that must be searched.

Once any of the GPS satellite has been acquired,the navigation message provides sufficient informationabout the adjacent satellites to be acquired quickly. The GPS receiver retains the information from the navigation message when switched off, and it also runs its internal clock. When next switched on ,the receiver will assume that its position is close to its last known position when it was switched off,calculate which satellites should be visible ,and search for those first. If the receiver has been moved a large distance while turned off ,a cold start is needed.

The correlation process described above assumes that each satellite is acquired sequentially. Some low cost receivers use sequential acquisition of the satellites,i.e one satellite at a time. More sophisticated receivers have parallel correlators which can search for and acquire satellites in parallel. 12 parallel correlators guarantee that all visible GPS satellite will be acquired with better start up time and accuracy.

Integrity monitoring of GPS measurement is possible by using a 5th satellite to recalculate the receiver position. With 5 satellites there are 5 possible ways to select 4 pseudoranges ,leading to 5 calculations of position. If there is disagreement between the results ,one bad measurement can be eliminated. Gps receivers used for navigation of aircraft uses integrity monitoringto guard against receiver or satellite failures and interference with or jamming of GPS signals.