It is well known that Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) incorporates different systems like GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and some other. Historically driven by military needs these global systems become the essential and not always perceived part of life for millions of ordinary people.

Few of us muse about the way GNSS operates while planning a route to the office in an attempt to avoid the traffic nightmare of big cities or the countryside obscurity. How many clever space machines work on the orbit to make our lives safer?

GPS is the base of global navigation

Obviously, the keystone of GNSS is Global Positioning System (GPS). The older one, it is the most extensive and accurate navigation system with the first satellite launched in 1974. The efficiency of GPS was so stunning that US government was forced to make artificial navigation errors to save their handicap in a military sphere. But that pseudo-obstacles were rejected in 2000 by the Bill Clinton’s decree.

Originally GPS architecture implied the use of 24 satellites working on their orbits. However, today it uses the 32-slot arrangement for better connection quality with 31 operational and one reserve satellites. That makes the system more reliable and improves its accuracy. Every satellite orbits the Earth twice a day and provides the signal worldwide.

All of them are controlled from military base Schriever (Colorado, US) by using of 2000-4000 MHz radio signals.

Usage of GPS was uncontested for many years, but even now the system remains as a symbol of quality. Absolutely all civilian GNSS trackers have a special chip and support GPS. Their stable work depends on the forethought of the elaborate satellite system.

The newest GPS Block IIIA satellite is considered to be a future technology. Its launch is scheduled for 2017. This spacecraft is supposed to transmit new types of the civilian signals like L2C, L1C, and L5. It will make the strength and accuracy of GPS signal higher. It is very crucial for urban areas.

With L2C type of signals, GPS will make a step towards to interoperability with other GNSS systems. International travelers exactly will thank US government that secure the flag of universality for their brainchild.

GLONASS – the Russian rival

Not surprising that started at the age of Cold War initially the military project of US government encounters a resistance of the Soviet space department. The Russians began to build their own GNSS that was named as GLONASS (GLObal NAvigation Satellite System).

The First GLONASS satellite (“The Hurricane”) was launched only in 1982. The global architecture of this system consists of 24 spacecrafts. Although only 18 of them allow a normal functioning of GNSS receivers in Russia and most part of Europe.

Up to 1998 Russian government launched 74 satellites and spend more than $ 2.5 billion, but by 2001 there were only six exploitable space machines. Right now the Russians have a full set of working satellites also with one reserve, one maintainable and two experimental machines.

GLONASS is considered to be not as accurate in location algorithms as GPS. That problem is related more to foreign territories because Russian government made a huge agio around the system claiming it as a national priority. But even Russian consumers faced the problems with the system when GLONASS shut down and was out of service for 11 hours on 2 April in 2014.

However, all of the experts state that usage of GPSGLONASS chipset makes an accuracy of spotting higher and the rivalry of that system pushed manufacturers to create the perfect product eventually.

The future satellites of the system are GLONASS-K2 that will be launched from 2018. They will have new types of signals for more accurate work of navigation equipment and systems where a more precise time synchronization is extremely important.

Galileo – the result of European teamwork

More than 50 satellites of major systems, turning around the planet right now, but it doesn’t mean that the near space is occupied and there isn’t any place for the other GNSS schemes. Quite obviously, that place has more space than enough.

The first of the non-global navigation systems are Galileo that was created by European Space Agency like a part of Trans-European Networks (TEN) project. It is financed by EU governments though many of them have their own space programs.

Right now they have 10 satellites in a cage and plan to launch 20 more machines by 2020. European Union spent more than $ 1.5 billion only to put the first two satellites into the orbit. The first launch was made from Baikonur (Kazakhstan) in 2005.

It’s clear that a decade of the machines can’t provide a good coverage and competitive quality of the signal, but Galileo makes its first step in that way. For example, the system could detect the plane under the military base in Gilze-Rijen (Netherlands). It was the first time when Galileo detects an object without any support from GPS or GLONASS.

At the same time Galileo “breathing in the unison” with GPS systems. In the proposed architecture, European navigation system will easily catch the signal from US infrastructure and use it to accurate its own navigation.

In the next few years, Galileo pretends to be a real global system with a fleet of satellites and ground equipment support. That assistance will make navigation incredibly accurate, up to 10 centimeters in a special mode.

Beidou – the growing future of navigation

Another non-global system was founded in China. With the first launch in October 2000, Beidou becomes the most rapidly developing GNSS with 20 operational satellites and 35 in estimated architecture. Interesting that five of the space machines will “hovering” on geostationary orbit. Some of them are working now to focus on the territory of China and the neighboring countries and make the deflection of location less than one meter.

Space patrol over the Japanese archipelago

The regional project of Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System is also interesting. This project implies the four-satellite system on geosynchronous orbits that will work in Asia region. The first machine “Michibiki” was launched into space in 2010 and Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency want to finalize the constellation before the end of 2017.

JAXA decided to focus on supporting the mobile apps that are related to navigation. First of all, it applies to improving the quality of mobile mapping, chargeable media content, sightseeing information for tourists and better monitoring of the public transport system.

How to navigate more the billiard of people from space orbit?

The last one notable location structure is Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System with its four of seven designed satellites. Not voicing the excessive ambitions Indians signaled that they are ready to make the product for “home consumption” and their own military needs.

The main paradox in this story is the use of war technologies as an engine in ultimately peaceable areas like civil navigation, caring for children, seniors and disabled people. Surprisingly the armaments race helps to save lives all around the planet. And it is an interesting thing to think about when you switched-on your GPS Tracker and pave the way.

Every second a lot of clever machines soar above our heads sending their smart signals to make our lives simpler and safer. It is a titanic work of thousands of engineers and scientists with one dream in their heads to lead us on the right way. That is true in all possible senses of the phrase.