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The History Of Commercial GPS

Category:car gps tracker

smarketingOctober 04, 2023

Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-powered system that facilitates accurate capturing of locations on any place on the surface of the Earth. The U.S. Air Force developed the first iteration of GPS as a military project. As time passed, it became integral to private and commercial life in the developed world.

Today, GPS helps in navigation, aviation, emergency response, fleet tracking, etc. The Global Positioning System is a service based on positioning, navigation, and timing powered by a constellation of satellites owned by the USA and managed worldwide via control stations.

In the beginning, GPS was reserved only for the military. Now, it is available to everyone and has been so for a while. Due to the widespread use of GPS, this technology has become well-incorporated in people's lives. GPS can now be found in cars such as OBD-II car GPS trackers and mounted infotainment systems or smartphones, and smartwatches. There are 24 operational satellites in the GPS constellation, with a few extra in reserve that the authorities can activate when needed. According to GPS.gov, there are 29 operational satellites as of May 2020. They revolve the Earth twice a day at over 20,200 km. The U.S. Air Force monitors and manages the system and has committed to having at least 24 satellites available 95% of the time. This helps you to be able to know immediately the location of your loved ones in case of an emergency.

Glimpse of the past

GPS originated during the Cold War when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik I satellite, which marked the start of the so-called space race. The whole thing began as a method of studying the Earth from space, but it quickly became a universal technology used by almost every country.

The end of Selective Availability was a milestone achieved twenty-three years ago, which allowed civilians access to more accurate GPS readings and paved the way for more technological advancements.

GPS highlights


  • 1957 - Sputnik I satellite launched by the Soviet Union.
  • 1959 - The U.S. Navy built the Transit system satellites for submarine tracking.
  • 1963 - The Aerospace Corporation completed a full-fledged military study and founded the modern-day GPS.


  • 1974 - The U.S. launched the first NAVSTAR test satellite.
  • 1978 - The U.S. started the launch of 11 test satellites as part of the Block I GPS program.
  • 1983 - America chose to provide GPS to civilians to improve navigation and increase air traffic safety after the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 crashed.
  • 1985 - The U.S. government signed contracts with private companies to design portable GPS devices.
  • 1989 - The GPS brand called Magellan introduced the first handheld GPS device, NAV 1000. The U.S. Air Force also launched the first fully operational satellite as part of its Block II program.


  • 1990 - The DoD began reducing GPS accuracy for non-military use, stating fear of adversaries gaining military advantages as the reason behind the decision. Eventually, this was called “Selective Availability."
  • 1991 - Despite not being entirely operational, GPS played a crucial role in the U.S. operations during the Gulf War.
  • 1995 - The U.S. military announced full operational capability of all 24 GPS satellites.
  • 1998 - Al Gore, the Vice President of the U.S., announced a plan for GPS III satellites to send two extra signals for civilians and aircraft use.
  • 1999 - Benefon introduced the first commercial GPS phone.


  • 2000 - The U.S. ended “Selective Availability," which further allowed greater usage of GPS among commercial entities and innovators.
  • 2004 - Qualcomm, the U.S. electronics company, completed a test of live-assisted GPS on mobile phones, which allowed cellular and GPS signals to work together for better location accuracy.
  • 2005 - The first of Block IIR satellites is launched, facilitating a dedicated civilian GPS channel.
  • 2010 - The U.S. launched the initial 12 Block IIF satellites. It was the first satellite launched as part of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), recognized as the modern rocket.
  • 2016 - The final Block IIF satellites launched and marked the end of the extensive Block II program. It ran from 1989 to 2016.
  • 2018 - The U.S. Air Force executed the launch of the first GPS III satellite.
  • 2019 - The second GPS III satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9.


  • 2020 - The U.S. Space Force announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SpaceX launch of the GPS III-3 satellite was delayed.

How GPS went commercial

GPS technology became commercially available during the late 1980s. That was when the electronic navigation company called Magellan designed the first portable GPS receiver. This inaugural device, the NAV 1000, weighed around 1.5 pounds and had a hefty $3,000 price tag. Even after being so costly, this device could not run longer than an hour or two on battery. Back then, the costliness of satellite navigation meant only select companies could afford these systems, other than the military.

With time, the accuracy of GPS improved, and sooner rather than later, various industries started to take advantage of this technology. These days, portable GPS tracking systems are much more affordable. The devices are lightweight, can fit in the palm of your hand, and possess many other abilities compared to the original variants.

The present and the future

Considering the rate at which the abilities of technology continue to expand, one can imagine what GPS technology will look like in the future. Depending on physical maps or asking strangers for directions are things of the past.

Modern navigation systems will empower businesses and government services around the world. Today, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) includes GPS, the European Union's Galileo, Russia's GLONASS, and China's Beidou Navigation Satellite System. Other nations are also working towards their own GPS navigation solutions.

The U.S. Government has plans to launch a new era of GPS satellites called the GPS III models. The third satellite in the series was set for a 2020 launch, but it was delayed. By this year, the new GPS III satellite system was expected to be fully operational.


  1. https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/scan/communications/policy/GPS_History.html
  2. https://aerospace.org/article/brief-history-gps
  3. https://www.michaelminn.net/tutorials/gps-history/index.html
  4. https://www.aiaa.org/docs/default-source/uploadedfiles/about-aiaa/press-room/videos/iaf-60th-anniv-gps-nomination.pdf?sfvrsn=9bc64bfa_0
  5. https://www.pcworld.com/article/461346/a-brief-history-of-gps.html
  6. https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/technology/visionaries/the-birth-of-gps-an-unexpected-child-of-the-space-race/
  7. https://news.lockheedmartin.com/2019-08-22-Second-Lockheed-Martin-Built-Next-Generation-GPS-III-Satellite-Responding-to-Commands-Under-Self-Propulsion
  8. https://www.icao.int/APAC/Meetings/2010/pbn_tf7/wp11.pdf