Gadget Freak – The History Of The GPS

January 28, 2016


Opportunities are everywhere around us, just waiting to be seized, even in the worst case scenarios. Who would have thought that one of the most important technology developments in the 20th century could come from one of the biggest defeats during the Cold War?

The Global Positioning System, or as we ordinarily call it GPS, came to be thanks to Sputnik. In 1957, MIT scientists noticed that the frequency of radio signals transmitted by the Russian satellite increased as it approached and decreased as it went further away.

This Doppler Effect gave the MIT scientist an ingenious idea – if the satellites could be tracked from the ground by measuring radio signals they emitted, locations of ground receivers could be tracked by measuring their distance from the satellites as well.

Two years later, the Navy successfully built TRANSIT, the very first satellite navigation system designed to locate submarines.

Although the new gadget was quite slow and submarines had to wait hours to receive signals from the satellites, it was still a major breakthrough and it set the stage for the first GPS concept as we know it today, thanks to a 1963 study. TRANSIT was succeeded by the Timation satellite, and 11 Block satellites were launched between 1978 and 1985.

After the tragic 1983 incident, when the USSR shot down a Korean passenger jet, Reagan’s Administration decided that the technology shouldn’t be restricted for military purposes only and opened up GPS for civilian applications. That meant that aircrafts of all kinds could fix their positions and avoid accidentally flying into foreign territory.

Due to NASA’s SS Challenger disaster in 1986, satellite launching was delayed for a couple of years, but by the summer of 1993 the US launched their 24 NAVSTAR satellite into orbit and, by doing so, completed the modern GPS constellation of satellites.

As the mobile phone technology started developing pretty rapidly, phone manufacturers decided that they could also benefit from the Global Positioning System. Benefon was the first manufacturer that launched the first commercially-available GPS phone, the Benefon Esc! With the new millennium, GPS receiver technology got much smaller and definitely much cheaper, and all sorts of companies started manufacturing their own GPS products, the most important one being the in-car navigation device.