Satellite Navigation graphic showing various satellite navigation applications

Overview

Introduction

The use of satellites for positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) has grown dramatically since the U.S. Government offered civilian access to the Global Positioning System (GPS) in 1983. Thanks to the long-standing U.S. policy of making GPS freely available to the entire world, as well as a track record of highly dependable service, GPS has evolved from a neat gadget into a ubiquitous technology that is now fundamental to the global information infrastructure.

Learn more about GPS at GPS.gov... Learn more about the U.S. policy at GPS.gov...

GPS constellation GPS is a constellation of over 24 U.S. government satellites providing PNT services to an unlimited number of civilian and military users on a continuous, worldwide basis -- free of direct user charges. Using the time and position data transmitted by the satellites, a GPS receiver can calculate its location on or above the surface of the Earth within a few meters. When used with an augmentation system, a receiver can attain much higher GPS accuracy -- within centimeters, or even millimeters.

Learn more about augmentations at GPS.gov...

GPS surveyors at a mining site Today, GPS technology is in everything from cars and airplanes to cell phones and wristwatches. Businesses use it to boost productivity in industries as diverse as farming, mining, construction, real estate, taxicab services, package delivery, and logistical supply chain management. GPS enhances public safety by preventing transportation accidents and reducing emergency response times. It helps further scientific aims such as weather forecasting, earthquake prediction, and environmental protection.

The precise GPS time signal, derived from atomic clocks on each satellite, has been harnessed to synchronize vast communications networks, electrical power grids, financial markets, and other systems that are critical to the U.S. economy.

Learn more about GPS applications at GPS.gov...

Commerce Department Roles

The Commerce Department's use of GPS is extensive and far-ranging. NOAA navigates its vessel fleet and enforces fishery boundaries with GPS. The National Geodetic Survey uses GPS to survey the nation's coastlines, waterways, and airport approaches, and to define the National Spatial Reference System. The National Weather Service improves its forecasts by using the GPS radio signal to measure water vapor content in the atmosphere. The National Institute of Standards and Technology uses GPS to communicate its national time standard to other national laboratories. And the U.S. Census Bureau uses GPS to locate homes.

Farmer using GPS in a tractorThrough NOAA, the Commerce Department is also a PNT service provider, managing the national GPS augmentation known as the Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) network. CORS is a consortium of over 1,000 public and private sector tracking stations that enable high precision users to refine their GPS measurements to the centimeter level or better.

Learn more about CORS at NOAA.gov...

The Commerce Department is a key member of the National Executive Committee for Space-Based PNT, the senior body established by the President to advise and coordinate federal departments and agencies on matters concerning GPS and related systems. The Deputy Secretary of Commerce participates on the Executive Committee as a key representative of the commercial and civilian GPS community. The Commerce Department also hosts the National Executive Committee's meetings and its National Coordination Office, a permanent secretariat located at the Office of Space Commercialization.

Learn more about the National Executive Committee at GPS.gov...

GPS in a shoe Through the Office of Space Commercialization, the Commerce Department promotes the interests of commercial GPS users, manufacturers, and service providers. The Office conducts and disseminates economic studies related to GPS. The Office promotes GPS modernization efforts to improve future civilian capabilities. The Office participates in discussions with other nations to promote international use of and cooperation with GPS. The Office co-chairs the U.S.-European working group on GPS-Galileo trade and civil applications, which focuses on maintaining a level playing field as Europe's satellite navigation system enters the market.

Read more about GPS modernization...

Finally, the Commerce Department plays a regulatory role with regard to GPS. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is responsible for co-managing (with FCC) the radio frequency spectrum used by GPS. The Bureau of Industry and Security sets guidelines for the export licensing of civilian GPS user equipment. And the Patent and Trademark Office processes applications for GPS-related technology patents.