Skip to content

The History of GPS

Systems such as navigation, aviation, fleet tracking and emergency response rely on the Global Positioning System (GPS) to function effectively. Initially designed for intelligence and military applications in the late 1950s and early ’60s, GPS today is available to everyone.

Most drivers use a GPS device in their vehicle to navigate routes, rather than an old-fashioned street map. Many people have GPS location in their smartphone. The technology is a part of day-to-day life and something we take for granted in the 21st century.


The History of GPS

GPS originated in the Sputnik era, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik I satellite in 1957. Scientists tracked the satellite via shifts in its radio signal – called the “Doppler Effect”.

The US Navy conducted its own satellite navigation experiments in the 1960s, tracking submarines carrying nuclear missiles. Six satellites orbited the poles and by observing the satellite changes in Doppler, the submarines’ location could be pinpointed within minutes.

In the early 1970s, the US Department of Defence built on previous ideas from Navy scientists and used satellites to support its proposed navigation system, the Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite, which was launched in 1978. In 1983, the US government announced it would make GPS available for use by civilians.

In 1989, Magellan developed the first GPS receiver for consumers, the NAV 1000, which cost $3,000 and ran for two hours at a time using battery power. Its high costs meant that apart from the military, GPS was seldom used by anyone except freight and delivery companies.

The 24-satellite system became fully operational in 1993 and two years later, full operational capability was declared after the US launched into orbit, the 24th Navstar satellite known as the Global Positioning System (GPS).

In 1999, Benefon introduced the first commercially-available GPS phone, the Benefon Esc, which was sold mainly in Europe. Many more GPS-enabled mobile phones followed and today, there’s a wide choice on the market.


GPS Today

Used for many applications including navigation, motorists’ route finding, making maps, earthquake research and climate studies, there are around 30 active satellites in today’s GPS network. There’s even an outdoor treasure-hunting game called geocaching. GPS-based navigation aids also assist farming, mining, construction, package delivery, logistics and surveying.

The GPS receiver in smartphones or on the car dashboard works out its location and speed by measuring the time it takes to receive radio signals from at least four satellites overhead. There’s also a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Russia’s GLONASS, the European Union’s Galileo and China’s Beidu Navigation Satellite System.

Today, GPS is used for so many applications that the loss of signals would have major consequences throughout the world.

North London-based H&H Van Hire Ltd offers van hire and minibus hire services, including nine to 14-seater minibuses and a large selection of vans of all sizes, including refrigerated vans – GPS devices are available to help you reach your destination! Please contact us for further details.

Book Now