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Global Positioning System


The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a burgeoning technology, which provides unequalled accuracy and flexibility of positioning for navigation, surveying and GIS data capture. The GPS NAVSTAR (Navigation Satellite timing and Ranging Global Positioning System) is a satellite-based navigation, timing and positioning system. The GPS provides continuous three-dimensional positioning 24 hrs a day throughout the world. The technology seems to be beneficiary to the GPS user community in terms of obtaining accurate data upto about 100 meters for navigation, metre-level for mapping, and down to millimetre level for geodetic positioning. The GPS technology has tremendous amount of applications in GIS data collection, surveying, and mapping.

Geopositioning -- Basic Concepts

By positioning we understand the determination of stationary or moving objects. These can be determined as follows:

  1. In relation to a well-defined coordinate system, usually by three coordinate values and

  2. In relation to other point, taking one point as the origin of a local coordinate system.

The first mode of positioning is known as point positioning, the second as relative positioning. If the object to be positioned is stationary, we term it as static positioning. When the object is moving, we call it kinematic positioning. Usually, the static positioning is used in surveying and the kinematic position in navigation.

GPS - Components and Basic Facts

The GPS uses satellites and computers to compute positions anywhere on earth. The GPS is based on satellite ranging. That means the position on the earth is determined by measuring the distance from a group of satellites in space. The basic principles behind GPS are really simple, even though the system employs some of the most high-tech equipment ever developed. In order to understand GPS basics, the system can be categorized into:

FIVE logical Steps

  1. Triangulation from the satellite is the basis of the system.

  2. To triangulate, the GPS measures the distance using the travel time of the radio message.

  3. To measure travel time, the GPS need a very accurate clock.

  4. Once the distance to a satellite is known, then we need to know where the satellite is in space.

  5. As the GPS signal travels through the ionosphere and the earth's atmosphere, the signal is delayed.

To compute a position in three dimensions. We need to have four satellite measurements. The GPS uses a trigonometric approach to calculate the positions, The GPS satellites are so high up that their orbits are very predictable and each of the satellites is equipped with a very accurate atomic clock.

GPS Positioning Types

Absolute Positioning

The mode of positioning relies upon a single receiver station. It is also referred to as 'stand-alone' GPS, because, unlike differential positioning, ranging is carried out strictly between the satellite and the receiver station, not on a ground-based reference station that assists with the computation of error corrections. As a result, the positions derived in absolute mode are subject to the unmitigated errors inherent in satellite positioning. Overall accuracy of absolute positioning is considered to be no greater than 50 meters at best by Ackroyd and Lorimer and to be + 100 meter accuracy by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Differential Positioning

Relative or Differential GPS carries the triangulation principles one step further, with a second receiver at a known reference point. To further facilitate determination of a point's position, relative to the known earth surface point, this configuration demands collection of an error-correcting message from the reference receiver.

Differential-mode positioning relies upon an established control point. The reference station is placed on the control point, a triangulated position, the control point coordinate. This allows for a correction factor to be calculated and applied to other roving GPS units used in the same area and in the same time series. Inaccuracies in the control point's coordinate are directly additive to errors inherent in the satellite positioning process. Error corrections derived by the reference station vary rapidly, as the factors propagating position errors are not static over time. This error correction allows for a considerable amount of error of error to be negated, potentially as much as 90 percent.

GPS Applications

One of the most significant and unique features of the Global Positioning Systems is the fact that the positioning signal is available to users in any position worldwide at any time. With a fully operational GPS system, it can be generated to a large community of likely to grow as there are multiple applications, ranging from surveying, mapping, and navigation to GIS data capture. The GPS will soon be a part of the overall utility of technology.

There are countless GPS applications, a few important ones are covered in the following passage:

Surveying and Mapping

The high precision of GPS carrier phase measurements, together with appropriate adjustment algorithms, provide an adequate tool for a variety of tasks for surveying and mapping. Using DGPs methods, accurate and timely mapping of almost anything can be carried out. The GPS is used to map cut blocks, road alignments, and environmental hazards such as landslides, forest fires, and oil spills. Applications, such as cadastral mapping, needing a high degree of accuracy also can be carried out using high grade GPS receivers. Continuous kinematic techniques can be used for topographic surveys and accurate linear mapping.


Navigation using GPS can save countless hours in the field. Any feature, even if it is under water, can be located up to one hundred meters simply by scaling coordinates from a map, entering waypoints, and going directly to the site. Examples include road intersections, corner posts, plot canters, accident sites, geological formations, and so on. GPS navigation in helicopters, in vehicles, or in a ship can provide an easy means of navigation with substantial savings.

Remote Sensing and GIS

It is also possible to integrate GPS positioning into remote-sensing methods such as photogrammetry and aerial scanning, magnetometry, and video technology. Using DGPS or kinematic techniques, depending upon the accuracy required, real time or post-processing will provide positions for the sensor which can be projected to the ground, instead of having ground control projected to an image. GPS are becoming very effective tools for GIS data capture. The GIS user community benefits from the use of GPS for locational data capture in various GIS applications. The GPS can easily be linked to a laptop computer in the field, and, with appropriate software, users can also have all their data on a common base with every little distortion. Thus GPS can help in several aspects of construction of accurate and timely GIS databases.


Geodetic mapping and other control surveys can be carried out effectively using high-grade GPS equipment. Especially when helicopters were used or when the line of sight is not possible, GPS can set new standards of accuracy and productivity.

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