Understanding the GPS

Science Corner – Understanding The GPS and It’s Practical Applications

Science corner brings you to grip with a satellite-based navigation system that has been around for nearly four decades –The Global Positioning System

Launched in February 1978 by the US. Department of defense to aid military groups for positioning and timing information, the GPS has since become the primary method of tracking objects almost anywhere in the world.

The global positioning system is a configuration of 24 or more satellites flying 20,350km above the surface of the earth.
The Air Force launches new satellites to replace aging ones when needed while the new satellites offer upgraded accuracy and reliability.

How The GPS Works

  1. GPS satellites broadcast radio signals providing their locations, status, and precise time {t1} from onboard atomic clocks.
  2. The GPS radio signals travel through space at the speed of light {c}, more than 299,792 km/second.
  3. A GPS device receives the radio signals, noting their exact time of arrival {t2}, and uses these to calculate its distance from each satellite in view.
  4. Once a GPS device knows its distance from at least four satellites, it can use geometry to determine its location on Earth in three dimensions.
Source: gps.gov
Let’s make it simpler!

The global positioning system is the mechanism for the continuous tracking of the position and time of a moving object on earth. This process could continue as long as there is no dense structure surrounding the moving object to obstruct GPS reading.

The GPS (global positioning system) is basically made up of three different units. They include

The Satellites 

33 satellites, 31 in orbit. It is these satellites orbiting the globe that is the focal point of GPS communication. 

3-4 satellites are grouped in six orbitals to transmit messages concerning the position and location of a moving device.

Zikel Designs

When these satellites transmit a signal at different frequencies, the transmitted data is interpreted to determine the location and position of the GPS receiver.

The GPS Control

This is the master Global Positioning System control station based at the Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, USA. This segment regularly updates signals and orbital status, which keeps the system functioning.

The GPS Tracking Unit/Receiver

These are the various devices used to track the precise location and position of a moving vehicle or person at intervals.

Practical Application Of The GPS Trackers

  • Scientists use trackers to study the activities of wildlife animals. For instance, vaginal implant transmitters mark the location where pregnant females give birth.
  • Advanced smartphones have inbuilt GPS tracking ability and can be used to find your way while you journey.
  • Tracking devices are used by employers to monitor employees who use GPS enabled cell phones.
  • A tracking device (ankle monitor) is placed on an arrested suspect who is out on bail.
Science Corner - Understanding The GPS and It's Practical Applications 2
(Ankle monitor placed on a suspect)


  • GPS trackers on cars have helped the Police locate the exact position of stolen vehicles.
  • GPS trackers are used by parents to track the movement of their kids. These tracking devices send automatic alerts to parents when a child visits a non-appropriate location.
We’re done!
List 5 other practical applications of a GPS tracker.

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