Who Invented GPS? Powerful Minds Behind the History of GPS

A key figure in the initial idea and research that paved the way for GPS was Dr. Ivan Getting. He is an American physicist and engineer, known for his work in the field of radar technology, and he played a significant role in the conceptualization and early development of satellite-based navigation and positioning systems. In the early 1960s, he proposed the idea of a satellite-based navigation system that would become the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS).

While Getting’s work was instrumental in shaping the concept of GPS, the actual development and implementation of the GPS system were carried out by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) through the NAVSTAR program. The development and deployment of GPS involved the contributions of numerous engineers, scientists, and organizations over several decades, and it became an operational system in the 1970s and 1980s.

Who Invented GPS?

Dr. Ivan Getting, an American physicist and engineer, is one of the key figures in the creation of GPS. He was the co-founder of The Aerospace Corporation and served as its president from 1960 to 1977. Under his leadership, The Aerospace Corporation conducted early research and development work that laid the foundation for GPS.

Dr. Getting’s contributions were focused on the concept of using satellites for global navigation and positioning. He was instrumental in developing the concept of the first satellite-based navigation system that could provide accurate positioning and timing information. His work significantly influenced the development of GPS and set the stage for the U.S. Department of Defense’s NAVSTAR program, which ultimately led to the creation of the GPS system.

While Dr. Ivan Getting didn’t personally invent GPS, he made substantial contributions to its conceptualization and early development, and his work was fundamental in the creation of the GPS technology we know.

Other Founding Scientists and Innovators

In the celestial realm of satellite navigation, Dr. Ivan Getting emerges as a luminary, painting the fundamental strokes of what would ultimately materialize as GPS. Envisioning a world where navigation transcends boundaries, his concepts and frameworks laid the foundation upon which subsequent innovations would erect the sophisticated structure of GPS.

Adjacent to him in this pioneering endeavor was Roger L. Easton, whose experiments in timing and navigation unfolded new dimensions in satellite technology. It was Easton who envisaged a future where a constellation of satellites, sprinkled across the celestial sphere, could decode our precise location anywhere on Earth.

Subsequently, Dr. Bradford Parkinson and his team, christened “Navstar,” sculpted the amalgamation of theories and nascent technologies into a coherent, functional entity. Embarking on an odyssey that would navigate through the enigmas of technology, policy, and application, they translated theoretical brilliance into practical utility, bestowing upon civilization a tool that effortlessly obliterated the barriers imposed by time and space.

Another important figure is Dr. Gladys West. Dr. Gladys West is a remarkable Black woman in the field of science who played a significant role in the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS program). Her work in the 1960s at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, Dahlgren, Virginia, was of crucial importance for the early foundations of GPS technology.

Dr. West’s primary contributions to GPS were in the development of algorithms and computer software to process satellite data. She worked on the mathematical modeling of the Earth’s shape, which was crucial for the accurate calculation of satellite orbits and positions. Dr. West’s work directly contributed to the accuracy and reliability of the GPS system we know today.

READ MORE: The First Computer: Technology that Changed the World

When Was GPS Invented?

The development of GPS began in the 1960s as a U.S. military project called “NAVSTAR GPS.” The system became operational in the 1970s, and it was initially intended for military applications such as navigation, targeting, and troop movements. The U.S. government began allowing civilian access to GPS signals in the 1980s, and it has since become an integral part of many civilian applications, including navigation in vehicles, phones, aviation, maritime, and more.

READ MORE: The Complete History of Phones from the Last 500 Years

The key milestones in the invention and development of GPS

The invention and development of the Global Positioning System (GPS) involved several key milestones over several decades.

  • Conceptualization: The concept of using satellites for global navigation and positioning was proposed in the early 1960s by Dr. Ivan Getting, an American physicist and engineer.
  • Sputnik and TRANSIT: While the idea of satellite-based navigation was taking shape, the Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the U.S. Navy’s TRANSIT system, developed in the 1960s, were significant precursors to GPS. TRANSIT was the first operational satellite navigation system, primarily used for naval and maritime applications.
  • NAVSTAR: The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) initiated the NAVSTAR program in the early 1970s to develop a more advanced satellite navigation system. The first GPS satellite, Navstar 1, was launched in 1978.
  • Full Operational Capability (FOC): The development and deployment of the full constellation of GPS satellites took several years. By the mid-1990s, GPS reached Full Operational Capability with a constellation of 24 satellites.
  • Selective Availability: Initially, GPS had a feature called “Selective Availability” (SA), which intentionally degraded the accuracy of civilian signals to enhance military security. In 2000, President Bill Clinton ordered the discontinuation of SA, making GPS much more accurate for civilian use.
  • Civilian Use: With the removal of Selective Availability, GPS became an invaluable tool for civilian applications. It is now widely used in various sectors, including aviation, maritime, agriculture, transportation, surveying, and personal navigation devices.
  • The Official Launch of the GPS Project: As the embers of exploration and experimentation continued to flicker spiritedly, a momentous milestone gently etched itself into the annals of history. The year 1973 beheld the official inauguration of the GPS project, a venture that promised to weave the threads of previous explorations into a cohesive, global navigational tapestry.

Challenges and Obstacles in Developing GPS

The development of the Global Positioning System (GPS) was a complex and challenging undertaking. There were several obstacles and difficulties that had to be overcome during its development.

Technological Challenges and Orbital Dynamics

Developing the technology for modern GPS required the miniaturization of complex electronics and atomic clocks to fit within satellites, and it needed highly accurate timekeeping and synchronization across a constellation of satellites. Calculating the required orbits and ensuring that the satellites stay in position while accounting for gravitational perturbations and other forces was a major challenge.

Signal Propagation and Interference

GPS signals must travel through the Earth’s atmosphere. This sometimes caused delays and errors. Radio signals were also affected by interference and multipath effects which made accurate reception challenging, particularly in urban areas.

Security Concerns, Cost, and Funding

GPS was originally developed for military purposes, and ensuring the security of the system was a significant concern. Features like “Selective Availability” were implemented to intentionally degrade the accuracy of civilian signals.

Also, the development and deployment of a constellation of GPS satellites was a costly endeavor, and securing funding and resources for the program was a significant obstacle. It took many years to build and launch the full constellation.

International Cooperation and User Equipment

Encouraging international cooperation in the use of GPS and the sharing of accurate timing and positioning data required diplomacy and negotiations.

As for the equipment, in the early days of GPS, user equipment was bulky and expensive. The development of affordable and user-friendly GPS receivers for civilian use was a significant challenge.

Selective Availability

The intentional degradation of civilian signals through Selective Availability was a hurdle for civilian applications of GPS. This feature was eventually turned off in 2000.

Despite these challenges, the development and ongoing maintenance of GPS have been highly successful. GPS has become an essential and ubiquitous tool for navigation, timing, and a wide range of applications, and its accuracy and reliability continue to improve with advancements in technology and infrastructure.

How GPS Revolutionized Navigation and Technology

GPS (Global Positioning System) has revolutionized navigation and technology in numerous ways, impacting various industries and everyday life. No longer were sailors ensnared by the limitations of terrestrial and celestial navigation; the invisible threads of satellite signals bestowed upon them the ability to traverse through the earth’s oceans and realms unknown with an unprecedented assurance of their journey.

Similar changes happened in aerial navigation, where pilots, once dependent on a combination of maps, astronomical navigation, and radio signal navigation, found themselves bestowed with a tool that deftly wove through the fabric of the atmosphere, providing clarity and precision previously deemed unattainable.

Influence on Various Industries

The labyrinthine world of transportation and logistics was gently unraveled by the precision bestowed by GPS. Routes were optimized, deliveries meticulously timed, and the once-daunting expanse of global logistics was quietly tamed by the unseen signals whispering through the heavens.

GPS technology has also transformed agriculture through precision farming. Farmers use GPS to accurately map and monitor their fields, optimize planting and harvesting, and reduce waste. This has led to increased crop yields and more sustainable agricultural practices.

The sphere of scientific research too, found a confidante in GPS. GPS allowed for tracking migratory patterns and elusive creatures in the wild expanses and probing the mysteries ensconced within Earth’s shifting tectonic plates.

Conclusion

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a global navigational satellite system developed by the United States Department of Defense. It was created for military purposes but has since become an essential and ubiquitous technology used for civilian navigation and a wide range of applications worldwide.

GPS technology relies on a network of satellites, ground stations, and advanced technology to provide accurate positioning and timing information to users anywhere on or near the Earth’s surface. It has revolutionized navigation, geolocation, and numerous applications, including transportation, agriculture, telecommunications, and more. The development and deployment of GPS navigation have had a profound impact on global positioning and timing capabilities, making it an indispensable tool in the modern world.

How to Cite this Article

There are three different ways you can cite this article.

1. To cite this article in an academic-style article or paper, use:

James Hardy, "Who Invented GPS? Powerful Minds Behind the History of GPS", History Cooperative, October 25, 2023, https://historycooperative.org/who-invented-gps/. Accessed April 14, 2024

2. To link to this article in the text of an online publication, please use this URL:

https://historycooperative.org/who-invented-gps/

3. If your web page requires an HTML link, please insert this code:

<a href="https://historycooperative.org/who-invented-gps/">Who Invented GPS? Powerful Minds Behind the History of GPS</a>

Leave a Comment

Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin
Email