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GPS Gets To A Higher Level

by diane 2010-04-12 13:24

The quality of the devices like cell phones and GPS navigators operated by government and commercial users is based on signals they receive. Those signals have been recently improved by NASA engineers.

Initially, GPS was used by military; however, later, it became available for users worldwide who need accurate positioning, navigation, and timing services.
Thanks to a team of engineers from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., spacecraft operating in weak-signal areas will be able to acquire and track the weak GPS signals to determine their locations, much like motorists who use GPS to determine where they are.
Although millions of people rely on GPS receivers today for terrestrial applications, onboard GPS navigation for spaceflight operations has been much more challenging - particularly for spacecraft operating above the GPS constellation, which is about 20,200 kilometers (12,727 miles) above Earth in an area normally referred to as high-Earth orbit.
That is because existing GPS receivers could not adequately pick up the GPS signal, which is transmitted toward Earth, not away from it. As a result, spacecraft above the constellation could not reliably use GPS for tracking and navigational purposes, forcing them to use more expensive ground-tracking assets.
Seeing an opportunity to help lower mission costs, the Navigator team, used Research and Development funding to develop hardware for a prototype spacecraft GPS receiver that would allow spacecraft to acquire and track weak GPS signals at an altitude of 100,000 km (62,137 miles) - well above the GPS constellation, roughly one quarter of the distance to the moon.
The Navigator team is developing the next-generation Navigator receiver - one that can acquire the GPS signal even if the spacecraft carrying the receiver is located at lunar distances. Such a capability would reduce mission operational costs because ground controllers could track spacecraft via GPS rather than with expensive ground stations.


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