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A satellite navigation or satnav system is a system that uses satellites to provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning. It allows small electronic receivers to determine their location (longitude, latitude, and altitude/elevation) to high precision (within a few centimeters to metres) using time signals transmitted along a line of sight by radio from satellites. The system can be used for providing position, navigation or for tracking the position of something fitted with a receiver (satellite tracking). The signals also allow the electronic receiver to calculate the current local time to high precision, which allows time synchronisation. These uses are collectively known as Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT). Satnav systems operate independently of any telephonic or internet reception, though these technologies can enhance the usefulness of the positioning information generated.
A satellite navigation system with global coverage may be termed a global navigation satellite system (GNSS). As of September 2020[update], the United States' Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS)  and the European Union's Galileo are fully operational GNSSs. Japan's Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) is a (US) GPS satellite-based augmentation system to enhance the accuracy of GPS, with satellite navigation independent of GPS scheduled for 2023. The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) plans to expand to a global version in the long term.
Global coverage for each system is generally achieved by a satellite constellation of 18–30 medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites spread between several orbital planes. The actual systems vary, but use orbital inclinations of >50° and orbital periods of roughly twelve hours (at an altitude of about 20,000 kilometres or 12,000 miles).
Further information: GNSS augmentation
GNSS systems that provide enhanced accuracy and integrity monitoring usable for civil navigation are classified as follows:
By their roles in the navigation system, systems can be classified as:
As many of the global GNSS systems (and augmentation systems) use similar frequencies and signals around L1, many "Multi-GNSS" receivers capable of using multiple systems have been produced. While some systems strive to interoperate with GPS as well as possible by providing the same clock, others do not.
Ground based radio navigation is decades old. The DECCA, LORAN, GEE and Omega systems used terrestrial longwave radio transmitters which broadcast a radio pulse from a known "master" location, followed by a pulse repeated from a number of "slave" stations. The delay between the reception of the master signal and the slave signals allowed the receiver to deduce the distance to each of the slaves, providing a fix.
The first satellite navigation system was Transit, a system deployed by the US military in the 1960s. Transit's operation was based on the Doppler effect: the satellites travelled on well-known paths and broadcast their signals on a well-known radio frequency. The received frequency will differ slightly from the broadcast frequency because of the movement of the satellite with respect to the receiver. By monitoring this frequency shift over a short time interval, the receiver can determine its location to one side or the other of the satellite, and several such measurements combined with a precise knowledge of the satellite's orbit can fix a particular position. Satellite orbital position errors are caused by radio-wave refraction, gravity field changes (as the Earth's gravitational field is not uniform), and other phenomena. A team, led by Harold L Jury of Pan Am Aerospace Division in Florida from 1970-1973, found solutions and/or corrections for many error sources. Using real-time data and recursive estimation, the systematic and residual errors were narrowed down to accuracy sufficient for navigation.
Part of an orbiting satellite's broadcast includes its precise orbital data. Originally, the US Naval Observatory (USNO) continuously observed the precise orbits of these satellites. As a satellite's orbit deviated, the USNO sent the updated information to the satellite. Subsequent broadcasts from an updated satellite would contain its most recent ephemeris.
Modern systems are more direct. The satellite broadcasts a signal that contains orbital data (from which the position of the satellite can be calculated) and the precise time the signal was transmitted. Orbital data include a rough almanac for all satellites to aid in finding them, and a precise ephemeris for this satellite. The orbital ephemeris is transmitted in a data message that is superimposed on a code that serves as a timing reference. The satellite uses an atomic clock to maintain synchronization of all the satellites in the constellation. The receiver compares the time of broadcast encoded in the transmission of three (at sea level) or four (which allows an altitude calculation also) different satellites, measuring the time-of-flight to each satellite. Several such measurements can be made at the same time to different satellites, allowing a continual fix to be generated in real time using an adapted version of trilateration: see GNSS positioning calculation for details.
Each distance measurement, regardless of the system being used, places the receiver on a spherical shell at the measured distance from the broadcaster. By taking several such measurements and then looking for a point where they meet, a fix is generated. However, in the case of fast-moving receivers, the position of the signal moves as signals are received from several satellites. In addition, the radio signals slow slightly as they pass through the ionosphere, and this slowing varies with the receiver's angle to the satellite, because that changes the distance through the ionosphere. The basic computation thus attempts to find the shortest directed line tangent to four oblate spherical shells centred on four satellites. Satellite navigation receivers reduce errors by using combinations of signals from multiple satellites and multiple correlators, and then using techniques such as Kalman filtering to combine the noisy, partial, and constantly changing data into a single estimate for position, time, and velocity.
Main article: GNSS applications
Further information: Automotive navigation system
The original motivation for satellite navigation was for military applications. Satellite navigation allows precision in the delivery of weapons to targets, greatly increasing their lethality whilst reducing inadvertent casualties from mis-directed weapons. (See Guided bomb). Satellite navigation also allows forces to be directed and to locate themselves more easily, reducing the fog of war.
Now a global navigation satellite system, such as Galileo, is used to determine users location and the location of other people or objects at any given moment. The range of application of satellite navigation in the future is enormous, including both the public and private sectors across numerous market segments such as science, transport, agriculture etc.
The ability to supply satellite navigation signals is also the ability to deny their availability. The operator of a satellite navigation system potentially has the ability to degrade or eliminate satellite navigation services over any territory it desires.
|Owner||China||European Union||Russia||United States||India||Japan|
|Coding||CDMA||CDMA||FDMA & CDMA||CDMA||CDMA||CDMA|
|Altitude||21,150 km (13,140 mi)||23,222 km (14,429 mi)||19,130 km (11,890 mi)||20,180 km (12,540 mi)||36,000 km (22,000 mi)||32,600 km (20,300 mi) –|
39,000 km (24,000 mi)
|Period||12.63 h (12 h 38 min)||14.08 h (14 h 5 min)||11.26 h (11 h 16 min)||11.97 h (11 h 58 min)||23.93 h (23 h 56 min)||23.93 h (23 h 56 min)|
|Rev./S. day||17/9 (1.888...)||17/10 (1.7)||17/8 (2.125)||2||1||1|
(24 MEO, 3 IGSO, 1 GSO)
5 in orbit validation
2 GSO planned 20H1
1 in commissioning
27 operational + 3 spares
26 in orbit
|24 by design
1 in flight tests
|24 by design
(3 GEO, 5 GSO MEO)
|4 operational (3 GSO, 1 GEO)|
7 in the future
|Frequency||1.561098 GHz (B1)
1.589742 GHz (B1-2)
1.20714 GHz (B2)
1.26852 GHz (B3)
|1.559–1.592 GHz (E1)
1.164–1.215 GHz (E5a/b)
|1.593–1.610 GHz (G1)
1.237–1.254 GHz (G2)
1.189–1.214 GHz (G3)
|1.563–1.587 GHz (L1)
1.215–1.2396 GHz (L2)
1.164–1.189 GHz (L5)
2.492028 GHz (S)
|1.57542 GHz (L1C/A,L1C,L1S)|
1.22760 GHz (L2C)
1.17645 GHz (L5,L5S)
1.27875 GHz (L6)
|Status||Operational||Operating since 2016
|Precision||3.6 m (Public)
|1 m (Public)
|2–4 m||0.3–5 m (no DGPS or WAAS)||1 m (Public)
0.1 m (Encrypted)
|1 m (Public)|
0.1 m (Encrypted)
Using multiple GNSS systems for user positioning increases the number of visible satellites, improves precise point positioning (PPP) and shortens the average convergence time. The signal-in-space ranging error (SISRE) in November 2019 were 1.6 cm for Galileo, 2.3 cm for GPS, 5.2 cm for GLONASS and 5.5 cm for BeiDou when using real-time corrections for satellite orbits and clocks.
GNSS augmentation is a method of improving a navigation system's attributes, such as accuracy, reliability, and availability, through the integration of external information into the calculation process, for example, the Wide Area Augmentation System, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, the Multi-functional Satellite Augmentation System, Differential GPS, GPS-aided GEO augmented navigation (GAGAN) and inertial navigation systems.
Further information: Satellite geodesy § Radio techniques
Main article: DORIS (geodesy)
Doppler Orbitography and Radio-positioning Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) is a French precision navigation system. Unlike other GNSS systems, it is based on static emitting stations around the world, the receivers being on satellites, in order to precisely determine their orbital position. The system may be used also for mobile receivers on land with more limited usage and coverage. Used with traditional GNSS systems, it pushes the accuracy of positions to centimetric precision (and to millimetric precision for altimetric application and also allows monitoring very tiny seasonal changes of Earth rotation and deformations), in order to build a much more precise geodesic reference system.
The two current operational low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite phone networks are able to track transceiver units with accuracy of a few kilometers using doppler shift calculations from the satellite. The coordinates are sent back to the transceiver unit where they can be read using AT commands or a graphical user interface. This can also be used by the gateway to enforce restrictions on geographically bound calling plans.