Today, GPS technology is present in many consumer products, including automobile navigation systems, cell phones, and timekeeping devices such as high-end watches. But what’s the future of this remarkable satellite system?
Lockheed Martin’s upcoming Block III series will introduce new civil and military signals. Here’s what you need to know about the next generation of GPS satellites:
GPS was initially developed to help the military with navigation and mapping needs. However, it soon began to be used by civilians as well. The first commercial GPS-enabled cellphone appeared in 1999, and by 2000, it was being used as a car navigation system. Today, most vehicles have GPS systems that use satellites to pinpoint a vehicle’s location and display it on a map.
Over time, the accuracy of GPS signals has been improved. For example, the new GPS III system is expected to be up to three times more accurate than current systems. The system has also been designed to be more durable and handle interference better.
Other improvements in GPS technology include more efficient data transmissions between the device and the central database. This means the device will only transmit a signal when it changes significantly, saving energy and prolonging the battery’s life. It will also be able to work around obstacles such as tall buildings or trees that can block radio signals. Click here for more GPS technology products and explore.
Engineers also have GPS receivers functioning as snow sensors and tide gauges, and they’re researching ways to speed up the rate at which personal GPS devices update their location. This could be useful in helping search and rescue teams find missing individuals more quickly.
The military has used GPS for years to help guide missiles and locate targets. Today, civilians widely adopt technology for navigation in their cars, cell phones, and timekeeping in high-end watches. The government also uses it to track assets like airplanes, cargo containers, and navy ships.
Scientists use GPS to uncover new Earth phenomena, too. For example, faster and more accurate GPS technology has helped scientists measure how the ground moves during an earthquake. This has helped them better predict tsunamis. Researchers along the West Coast of the US have even used GPS to alert people when a big quake is imminent quickly. They can update locations up to 20 times a second or more.
Other researchers use GPS to tease information about the sky overhead in ways that weren’t possible until recently. The technology lets them see how water vapor, electrically charged particles, and other atmospheric conditions delay the signals from the satellites to their receivers on Earth. The new data can then be interpreted to create models of the atmosphere and its movement, leading to more precise weather forecasts and improving satellite tracking.
In the meantime, engineers are boosting the capabilities of the GPS to meet the growing demands for civilian applications. A more powerful military signal, M-code, will also be broadcast on the L2 frequency.
More Reliable Military Signals
In the 1990s, when the war in the Persian Gulf, also known as Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, was underway, Air Force officials knew GPS could be a game-changer. The technology allowed soldiers and other US forces to navigate remote areas without roads or signs. It also helped keep track of munitions and other military assets in the field.
In addition, the military signals that use GPS are much more robust and jamming-resistant than civilian signals. This significant improvement came with the launch of the latest generation of GPS satellites. These new satellites added a second civil signal (L2C), which improves performance in civil applications, and two new military signals that enhance military jam resistance and accuracy.
The IIR(M) satellites also have a new military code that is difficult to intercept. This is an excellent improvement for military users, but the ability to take advantage of it depends on the availability of user equipment that can receive and interpret M-code.
To take full advantage of this military capability, the Pentagon must upgrade its existing command centers and build a new ground system to handle the new M-code signal. That system, which Raytheon is developing as part of the Next Generation Operational Control System or OCX, has been delayed many times and is expected to be ready in 2022 or 2023.
More Accurate Civilian Signals
Many civilians use GPS to track their car’s location on a map, for navigation aids in airplanes and boats, or even to navigate wilderness trails. A more accurate signal could make a huge difference in the usefulness of personal GPS devices by providing information less likely to be subject to interference, such as multi-path error.
The new M-code scrambling system, already enabled on 22 satellites of various generations, will be expanded to include the future GPS III block of satellites (SVN-74 and higher). The next generation will also add a fourth civil GPS signal (L1C) designed to be interoperable with other international global navigation satellite systems, such as Europe’s Galileo network, Japan’s QZSS, and China’s Beidou.
Dual-frequency GPS equipment uses two GPS frequencies to improve accuracy by correcting distortions caused by the atmosphere and other environmental factors. Such equipment is available in the commercial market and is often used by government or professional users for precision applications. Civilians also can purchase augmentation systems to enhance the accuracy of their GPS devices.
GPS technology is now part of a suite of tools that allows scientists and engineers to study Earth’s movement more precisely than ever. For example, researchers along the West Coast are integrating GPS with an earthquake early warning system to determine whether shaking is close enough to generate a tsunami. In other countries, such systems can help emergency responders react more quickly to natural disasters as they unfold.