Aviators all over the world rely on Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to safely navigate and maneuver their aircraft. GPS allow pilots to obtain precise three-dimensional location data during all stages of flight using triangulation; GPS can also track speed, relative distance, and time. With its continuous, accurate, and comprehensive mapping capabilities, it offers seamless satellite navigation that satisfies many requirements for pilots.
A typical GPS system is composed of three integral systems: the ground control segment, the user segment, and the space (satellite) segment. The control segment is comprised of a series of ground stations that are used to interpret and relay satellite signals to various receivers. These ground stations have a master control station, twelve ground antennas, and sixteen monitoring posts. The user segment of the GPS system involves different receivers from various industries such as national security, agriculture, space, surveying, and mapping. A pilot is typically considered the user component in aviation GPS; however, autopilot systems can also utilize data provided by GPS. The last component is space, which consists of 31 satellites. A minimum of 24 satellites are in operation at any given moment, ensuring that at least four satellites are in view from any point on Earth. This complete coverage makes GPS technology the most reliable navigation system in modern aeronautics.
Satellites that communicate with GPS systems orbit approximately 12,000 miles above the Earth. They are solar powered and transmit radio signals to receivers that are stationed on the ground. The GPS system receives the signals and uses triangulation— data from at least three satellites— to calculate its precise location two dimensionally. With the needed satellites in view, a three-dimensional location can be obtained.
Advancements in GPS technology have led to the discovery of new and more efficient air routes, leading to savings in time and costs. Aircraft flying over data-sparse areas, such as oceans, have been able to safely navigate to their intended destinations. Airports in remote locations are receiving upgraded satellite augmentations and ground-based services to allow for the possibility of GPS technology. It is also possible for pilots to rely on GPS in emergency situations. Some versions of a GPS database will allow them to search for the closest airport, calculate travel time, account for the amount of fuel onboard, the time of sunset/sunrise, and many more vital features.
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