The GPS Journey

The global positioning system, or GPS, is an indispensable feature of modern life for many people, yet it’s not such a recent invention – it actually dates back nearly 60 years.


What is GPS?

GPS is a network of 31 satellites that orbit the earth twice daily. These satellites send accurate details of where they’re located in space, transmitting signals to GPS receivers on earth. These receivers, such as navigation devices, calculate the precise position, time and speed at a given location. A GPS system works on the same principles as the Doppler Effect.

GPS is commonly used in mobile phones for mapping data or finding information locally, and for satellite navigation in vehicles. It’s also used for entertainment purposes, such as the treasure hunt game, geocaching, and for important research into earthquakes and climate change. GPS shoes have been created to locate patients who suffer from dementia.



The invention of GPS was inspired by the Soviet spacecraft, Sputnik, back in 1957, when scientists noticed a change in radio signals transmitted according to location.

This gave scientists the idea to create satellites that could be tracked from the ground by measuring their radio signal frequencies, whilst also tracking the locations of receivers on the ground by their distance from the satellites.

The first GPS systems were developed in the 1960s for military and intelligence purposes during the Cold War. Launched by the USA in 1960, the first satellite was named Transit. In 1967, Transit was replaced by Timation satellite, which enabled accurate atomic clocks to be operated in space.

The first Block I GPS satellite was launched into space in 1974, increasing to 11 Block satellites by 1985. This was part of a proposed 24-satellite system going by the name of NAVASTAR. This name is still used by the military for the current GPS system.

When a Korean jet was shot down by the USSR in 1983 as it entered Russian air space, the US government made GPS available for civilian use. This meant that transport operators could identify their positions around the world, without entering restricted zones.

In 1993, the 24th satellite was launched into space by the USA, with 21 of these active at any one time. They were fully operational just two years later.

The first GPS-enabled mobile phone was developed in 1995 by Navsys Corporation. It was developed for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s emergency response system.

GPS was introduced in vehicles in 1996.

Even after GPS was made available for civilian use, only the highest quality signals were restricted to military organisations. This was lifted in 2000, when more accurate signals became available for public use.

GPS continues to evolve, with more countries developing their own satellite navigation systems.


To ensure you get from A to B as quickly and safely as possible (with or without the aid of GPS systems), ALD Automotive can lend a helping hand. Providing a wide range of vehicle fleet management and leasing solutions, our services are perfectly crafted to suit personal or corporate requirements.

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