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Introduction to GPS Merritt College Marc Epstein, Instructor

History of Navigation

sailors navigated by sun and stars Until the late 1700s sailors could only determine latitude Development of accurate seaworthy chronometers by the British enabled calculation of longitude

Early Electronic Navigation


based system LORAN-C and DECCA Triangulation of ground based radio signals Accurate to 900 1000 feet

What is GPS?

Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense beginning in 1976.

How is GPS Used in Society?


technology is used by any individual or group which needs accurate location data. Aeronautic Navigation First Responder Emergency Management Ground Transportation Management Land Use Management Law Enforcement Marine Navigation Natural Resource Management Utility Management

Why GPS?

was originally intended for military applications, but in the late 1980s the government made the system available for civilian use.

Is GPS Restricted?

works in any weather conditions, anywhere in the world. 24 hours a day. There is no subscription fee or setup charges to use GPS.

The Satellites

24 GPS satellites circle the earth twice each day in a very precise orbit and transmit signal information to the earth.

About the Satellites


GPS satellites are orbiting the earth about 12,000 miles above the surface. The GPS satellites are constantly moving, making two orbits in 24 hours at speeds roughly 7,000 miles per hour. The GPS satellites are powered with solar energy with backup batteries.

The GPS Unit


GPS Unit receives the signals from the satellites to determine location and conduct other functions programmed into the unit.

Determining Location

GPS Unit calculates location based upon geometry and time. GPS triangulation really is trilateration since it uses geometry rather than angles. The GPS unit measures distance through the time it takes for the radio signals to be received from the satellites. The radio waves from the satellites travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles/second)

Calculation of Location

GPS unit is programmed with information on the orbits of the satellites. The GPS unit calculates the time it takes for each of the satellite signals to reach the surface to determine distance. The location on the surface is the point where the GPS unit calculates where all the distances intercept.

The GPS Signal


satellites transmit two low power radio signals designated L1 and L2. Civilian GPS uses the L1 frequency of 1575.42 MHz in the UHF band. The signals travel by line of sight, meaning they pass through clouds, glass, and plastic but will not pass through most solid objects such as buildings and mountains.

Whats in the GPS Signal


Code Ephemeris Data Almanac Data

Pseudorandom Code

code that identifies which satellite is transmitting information. Many GPS units will provide information on which satellites it is receiving.

Ephemeris Data

the GPS unit with the information on where each GPS satellite should be at any time throughout the day. Each satellite transmits ephemeris data showing orbital information for that satellite and every other satellite in the system.

Almanac Data

information about the status of the satellite, current date and time. This part of the signal is essential for determining position.

Signal Error

conditions Signal multi-path Receiver clock errors Orbital errors Number of satellites visible Satellite geometry Intentional signal degradation

Atmospheric Conditions

satellite signal slows as it passes through the ionosphere and troposphere layers of the atmosphere. The GPS system uses a built in model that calculates an average amount of delay to partially correct for this type of error.

Signal Multi-path

occurs when the GPS signal is reflected off of objects such as tall buildings or large rock surfaces before it reaches the receiver. This increases travel time of the signal, thereby causing errors.

Receiver Clock Error


receivers built-in clock is not as accurate as the atomic clocks onboard the GPS satellites. Therefore, it may have very slight timing errors.

Orbital Errors

known as ephemeris errors, these are inaccuracies of the satellites reported location.

Number of Satellites Visible


more satellites the GPS unit can receive, the better the accuracy. Buildings, terrain, electronic interference, or sometimes even dense foliage can block signal reception, causing position errors or possibly no reading at all.

Intentional Signal Degradation


availability (SA) is an intentional degradation of the signal once imposed by the Department of Defense. SA was intended to prevent military adversaries from using the highly accurate GPS signals. The government turned off SA in May 2000.


GPS Ground stations which transmit true position WAAS Wide Area Augmentation System DGPS increases accuracy Non WAAS enabled units accurate to 30 feet WAAS enabled units accurate to 15 feet

The GPS Unit Functions


of Position Marking Waypoints Tracks Compass

Display of Position

GPS Unit can display position in several coordinate systems In order to make position data consistent with GIS software set the units to display in latitude and longitude Use the degrees decimal option


waypoint is any point that you store in memory Waypoints are identified with unique numbers Prior to recording a waypoint allow the unit time to average the position for greater accuracy The time you use to average your position is dependent on the estimated accuracy


tracks feature creates an electronic trail as you move It records and saves your movements It allows you to retrace your path


compass page uses traditional navigation to display your current direction of travel This is not a magnetic compass It only provides readings with motion Most GPS compass pages will provide bearing and current speed

Accuracy, Precision, and Resolution


Relationship to True Value Precision Relationship Between Data Points Resolution - Smallest increment the GPS unit can measure or ability to distinguish between different points

Recording GPS Data Points

When recording GPS data points you want to use a spread sheet format

The Data Sheet Columns


or identification number

Longitude Descriptive


Improving Accuracy

satellite geometry Further apart the satellites the greater the accuracy Increase height If you are in a canyon or under canopy cover increasing height may increase signal or increase number of satellites being received Use multiple GPS units and average readings

Field Collection Tips


which you can not reach the center Collect data points at corners and average the readings to get center point When collecting data points where the dots will be connected by GIS software Collect data points for corners and in between corners Pay attention to waypoint numbers if you are recording the waypoints in the GPS unit

Support the Data Inputter


neatly Sketch maps Provide unit number Provide names of data collectors Make notes of any special features or problems