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History of the GNSS industry and milestones ahead

September 25, 2020  - By
Headshot: Ellen Hall

Ellen Hall, president & CEO, Spirent Federal Systems

The history of GPS is fascinating. In 1957, a study by JHU’s Advanced Physics Laboratory (APL) utilized the Doppler effect to monitor the recently launched Sputnik, allowing researchers to pinpoint the satellite’s position. This endeavor led to the development of the Navy Transit program, the first satellite navigation system, which was successfully testing in 1960. The United States Global Positioning System (GPS) was officially launched in 1973 as a worldwide solution designed to overcome previous limitations. The U.S. Air Force developed the GPS, which designated 24 satellites for full operational capability (FOC) in 1995.

As a result of a horrific incident in 1983, in which Korean Air Lines Flight 007 wandered into Soviet airspace due to a navigation error and was subsequently shot down by the Soviets, the Reagan administration ordered worldwide access to GPS to ensure a tragedy like this could never happen again. The Clinton administration discontinued Selective Availability to make GPS more responsive and accurate to civil and commercial needs. This led to prolific global use and dependence on GPS for everything from providing data for precision farming applications to the critical timing of financial transactions. This increasing demand for and dependence on GPS has accentuated the importance of securing and safeguarding the system. Vulnerability testing, anti-jamming measures and alternative navigation solutions have become vital in both augmentation and backup for this critical utility.

As often happens with inventions created through government-sponsored studies, civilian uses become so ubiquitous that the original studies that led to GPS are long forgotten. It is as if GPS has simply always existed. Accordingly, the ground-breaking contributions of certain individuals should be remembered, such as Gladys West for her work in the development of computational techniques necessary for GPS precision. Pioneers such as Roger L. Easton of the Naval Research Lab, Ivan A. Getting of The Aerospace Corporation and Brad Parkinson of APL are credited with inventing GPS and changing, quite literally, how the world works.

I cannot imagine the world without GPS in some form. The content of what was once only in sci-fi movies is quickly becoming reality with driverless cars, pilotless aircraft and spacecraft. There are no limits on the possibilities in this field. The excitement about the future motivates brilliant minds from classified military installations to the latest civilian laboratories financed by the “Rocket Billionaires,” such as Elon Musk and Steve Bezos.