It’s in every phone and every new car, and without it, most of us in the United States would very literally be lost without it. Global Positioning System, or GPS navigation, is of vital import to our everyday lives now; but do know how GPS navigation came to be the standard and most commonly used form of navigation in the Western world?
History of GPS
The history of GPS navigation may seem relatively new, but the technology that was used to create the GPS systems of today were developed decades ago. Since the technology boom beginning in the 1990s, the capacity and usefulness of GPS navigation has skyrocketed, and today we all benefit from this transformative and rapidly-evolving technology.
Before GPS navigation took hold on a global scale, we all relied on some pretty inaccurate and non-specific means of finding the places you wanted to go. Compasses work by using the Earth’s natural magnetic field to give us travelers some orientation, but do so without guidance to any specific locations.
LORAN (LO(ng) RA(nge) N(avigation), the ground-based radio navigation systems and the Decca Navigator, were developed to assist with World War II. These navigation systems use base stations to generate patterns that can be read and interpreted to give roundabout locations and speeds of the receivers.
Sputnik: The beginning of GPS
In 1957, when the satellite Sputnik was launched into space, a new era of navigation possibilities began to take shape. That original satellite technology is the basis for all current GPS navigation apps today, and the launch of Sputnik was a catalyst for the American scientists and engineers who would come design and launch their own satellites into orbit around Earth.
American scientists realized that they could track the signals from Sputnik, and that the signals’ strengthening and weakening as it got closer and further away from Earth, the scientists were able to locate satellite based on this Doppler Effect.
The first navigation satellite
On April 13, 1960, the first navigation satellite was launched into space. Named Transit IB, the satellite was used by the United States Navy to locate missile-laden submarines and other ships. It would be nearly ten more years before the first satellite would be launched into space that was designed to test the capabilities of satellite navigation on a global scale.
After the launch of the 1967 Timation satellite which placed atomic clocks into space, the 1978 launch of the Block-I GPS satellite ushered in a new era of satellite communications. The Block-I GPS satellite, coupled with the Omega Navigation System, became the first global radio navigation system in the world.
In 1983, after the Soviet Union tragically shot down civilian Korean aircraft KAL 007 when it traversed Soviet airspace, killing 269 people on board, then President Ronald Reagan declared that as soon as Navstar, the Defense Navigation Satellite System being developed by the US military, became available, it would be offered for both public and military use for free.
Block I satellites continued to be launched into space at this time, and in 1985 the last one, number 10, made its way into orbit around Earth. Navstar officially became operational in 1990. In 1995, Navstar reached full operational capacity, and Precise Positioning Service (PPS).
In 1998, Al Gore is responsible for the launch of two civilian signal satellites, separate from military satellites, to increase accuracy and reliability for civilian use. This would come to be known as GPS II, and it would kick off in 2000, officially opening up GPS navigation to the public without restrictions or degraded signals.
It would not be until 2004 that QUALCOMM successfully tested GPS on mobile phones, and once civilians got a taste of portable GPS devices like Garmin and TomTom around the same time, there was no turning back.
Today, we view GPS map applications as vital, and maybe even boring, but just as GPS map navigation grew and developed over time, so too are app-based navigation tools like Metropia bringing a whole new era precise, coordinated, and live navigation and traffic management solutions. What the future holds, no one knows for sure, but for now, we can rest easy knowing that GPS is here to help us get where we’re going faster and hassle-free.