A Brief History of GPS Technology

November 3, 2017 Published by

While the United States officially launched its GPS technology in 1974 as a means of overcoming the limitations of previous navigational systems, the technology itself has its roots in the Sputnik era. Today, it is almost impossible to conceive of a world without GPS technology.

Let’s take a look at a brief timeline for GPS technology and how it has evolved over the years.

  • October 4, 1957: Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology find that the frequency of radio signals transmitted by Sputnik increased as it got closer and decreased as it moved farther away. This was a result of the Doppler Effect. Scientists decide to track satellites from the ground by measuring the frequency of radio signals, which would allow for locations of ground receivers to be tracked based on their distance from the satellite.
  • 1959: The navy introduces TRANSIT, the first true satellite navigation system. It was used to locate submarines, starting with just six satellites and increasing to 10. It would take hours for subs to get satellite signals.
  • 1974: After spending 11 years working on GPS systems, the military launches the first satellite of NAVSTAR, a 24-satellite GPS system. It launches 11 more test satellites between 1978 and 1985, with the NAVSTAR system being more commonly referred to as the GPS System.
  • 1985: The government enters into contracts with private companies to develop a variety of GPS receivers.
  • 1989: The Air Force launches the first fully operational GPS satellite in space, using a Delta II rocket.
  • 1989: Magellan Corporation becomes the first brand in the United States to market a personal handheld GPS navigation device.
  • 1990: As people become more familiar with the technology, the Department of Defense begins to fear enemies of the United States could use the system to their advantage. It therefore decides to purposefully decrease the system’s accuracy.
  • 1995: 27 fully operational GPS satellites are launched into space, three of which were spares in case others failed. Those satellites orbited the earth twice a day, and at least four would be visible from any place on earth at any time of day.
  • 2000: The Department of Defense ends its practice of making GPS purposefully inaccurate, and the system suddenly becomes 10 times more accurate, leading to a revolution in many industries that could benefit from the technology.
  • 2001: With the technology now significantly more accurate, many more private companies begin creating GPS devices and car GPS trackers, with in-car navigation systems proliferating and growing in popularity.
  • 2005: A new generation of GPS satellite, the Block II, is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Over the last 15 years, the United States has launched more satellites, and companies around the nation have found new ways of taking advantage of the technology. Now, most people in the United States walk around with a GPS in their pocket, courtesy of the evolution and proliferation of the smartphone.

For more information about this history of GPS, contact our GPS tracking service today.

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This post was written by Malcolm Rosenfeld

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