Its a technology we use so often that its easy to take for granted but do you even know the first thing about how the Global Positioning System works? Put on your thinking cap and dial into this enlightening video by The Royal Institution about how the devices we depend on daily to get around use satellites and atomic clocks to work out our exact location. Smarter everyday:
The history of the Global Positioning System (GPS) traces back to the mid-20th century, when the idea of satellite-based navigation systems first emerged. The concept gained prominence during the Cold War when various nations sought to develop accurate positioning technology for military purposes.
In the late 1950s, the United States Navy proposed Transit, the world’s first satellite navigation system. It became operational in the 1960s, using a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites to provide basic positioning capabilities. However, Transit was limited in accuracy and coverage.
The breakthrough came in the 1970s with the development of GPS by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The system was designed to provide global and highly accurate positioning for military, civilian, and scientific applications. The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978, and by the late 1980s, a full constellation was established.
GPS was made fully operational in the early 1990s and quickly revolutionized various industries. Civilian users could now access precise location information, enabling applications such as navigation, surveying, mapping, and more. The U.S. government made the system’s full accuracy available to civilians in the early 2000s, leading to the widespread adoption of GPS in everyday devices like smartphones and car navigation systems.
Over the years, GPS underwent several upgrades and improvements, including the introduction of new satellite generations with enhanced capabilities. Additionally, other countries developed their own satellite navigation systems, such as Russia’s GLONASS, the European Union’s Galileo, and China’s BeiDou.
The history of GPS reflects a remarkable journey from its military origins to becoming an integral part of modern life. It exemplifies how innovation and collaboration between government agencies, researchers, and industries can lead to transformative technological advancements with wide-ranging societal impacts.