GPS Surveying


Space segment will consist 21 GPS satellites with an addition of 3 active spares. These satellites are placed in almost six circular orbits with an inclination of 55 degree. Orbital height of these satellites is about 20,200 km corresponding to about 26,600 km from the semi major axis. Orbital period is exactly 12 hours of sidereal time and this provides repeated satellite configuration every day advanced by four minutes with respect to universal time.

Final arrangement of 21 satellites constellation known as ‘Primary satellite constellation’ is given in Fig. 4. There are six orbital planes A to F with a separation of 60 degrees at right ascension (crossing at equator). The position of a satellite within a particular orbit plane can be identified by argument of latitude or mean anomaly M for a given epoch.

Figure 4. 4: Arrangement of satellites in full constellation

GPS satellites are broadly divided into three blocks: Block-I satellite pertains to development stage, Block II represents production satellite and Block IIR are replenishment/spare satellite.

Under Block-I, NAVSTAR 1 to 11 satellites were launched before 1978 to 1985 in two orbital planes of 63-degree inclination. Design life of these prototype test satellites was only five years but the operational period has been exceeded in most of the cases.

The first Block-II production satellite was launched in February 1989 using channel Douglas Delta 2 booster rocket. A total of 28 Block-II satellites are planned to support 21+3 satellite configuration. Block-II satellites have a designed lifetime of 5-7 years.

To sustain the GPS facility, the development of follow-up satellites under Block-II R has started. Twenty replenishment satellites will replace the current block-II satellite as and when necessary. These GPS satellites under Block-IR have additional ability to measure distances between satellites and will also compute ephemeris on board for real time information gives a schematic view of Block-II satellite. Electrical power is generated through two solar panels covering a surface area of 7.2 square meter each. However, additional battery backup is provided to provide energy when the satellite moves into earth’s shadow region. Each satellite weighs 845kg and has a propulsion system for positional stabilization and orbit maneuvers.

Fig 4.5 Schematic view of a Block II GPS satellite

GPS satellites have a very high performance frequency standard with an accuracy of

between 1X10-12 to 1X10-13 and are thus capable of creating precise time base. Block-I satellites were partly equipped with only quartz oscillators but Block-II satellites have two cesium frequency standards and two rubidium frequency standards. Using fundamental frequency of 10.23 MHz, two carrier frequencies are generated to transmit signal codes.


NAVSTAR GPS is a one-way ranging system i.e. signals are only transmitted by the satellite. Signal travel time between the satellite and the receiver is observed and the range distance is calculated through the knowledge of signal propagation velocity. One way ranging means that a clock reading at the transmitted antenna is compared with a clock reading at the receiver antenna. But since the two clocks are not strictly synchronized, the observed signal travel time is biased with systematic synchronization error. Biased ranges are known as pseudoranges. Simultaneous observations of four pseudoranges are necessary to determine X, Y, Z coordinates of user antenna and clock bias.

Real time positioning through  GPS signals is possible by modulating carrier frequency with Pseudorandom Noise (PRN) codes. These are sequence of binary values (zeros and ones or +1 and -1) having random character but identifiable distinctly. Thus pseudoranges are derived from travel time of an identified PRN signal code. Two different codes viz. P-code and C/A code are in use. P means precision or protected and C/A means clear/acquisition or coarse acquisition.

P- code has a frequency of 10.23 MHz. This refers to a sequence of 10.23 million binary digits or chips per second. This frequency is also referred to as the chipping rate of P-code. Wavelength corresponding to one chip is 29.30m. The P-code sequence is extremely long and repeats only after 266 days. Portions of seven days each are assigned to the various satellites. As a consequence, all satellite can transmit on the same frequency and can be identified by their unique one-week segment. This technique is also called as Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). P-code is the primary code for navigation and is available on carrier frequencies L1 and L2.

The C/A code has a length of only one millisecond; its chipping rate is 1.023 MHz with corresponding wavelength of 300 meters. C/A code is only transmitted on L1 carrier.

GPS receiver normally has a copy of the code sequence for determining the signal propagation time. This code sequence is phase-shifted in time step- by-step and correlated with the received code signal until maximum correlation is achieved. The necessary phase-shift in the two sequences of codes is a measure of the signal travel time between the satellite and the receiver antennas. This technique can be explained as code phase observation.

For precise geodetic applications, the pseudoranges should be derived from phase measurements on the carrier signals because of much higher resolution. Problems of ambiguity determination are vital for such observations.

The third type of signal transmitted from a GPS satellite is the broadcast message sent at a rather slow rate of 50 bits per second (50 bps) and repeated every 30 seconds. Chip sequence of P-code and C/A code are separately combined with the stream of message bit by binary addition ie the same value for code and message chip gives 0 and different values result in 1.

The main features of all three signal types used in GPS observation viz carrier, code and data signals are given in Table 3.

GPS Satellite Signals

The signal structure permits both the phase and the phase shift (Doppler effect) to be measured along with the direct signal propagation. The necessary bandwidth is achieved by phase modulation of the PRN code as illustrated in Fig. 6.

Fig 4.6 Generation of GPS Signals