Who owns the GNSS/GPS system?  

Third Post:

Who owns the GNSS/GPS system?


The first operational navigation system using information derived from a constellation of satellites was the Global Positioning System developed and owned by the United States Government/Military.  The system is reported to have become fully operational in 1995. 


The first GPS receivers available for civilian use were very crude by today’s standards.  The accuracy levels were in the 100’s of meters as opposed to the 10’s of meters available today.  The level of accuracy available to civilian GPS units improved in May of 2000 when the US Military turned off the ‘Selective Availability’.  Selective Availability is a system installed on the GPS satellites to deliberately degrade the accuracy of the GPS signal.  This functionality was designed in order to deny any potential enemy precise position information that could be used against the US.


The complete unilateral control the US Military had over the GPS system caused concern among other nations and industries.  The fear was that if you became reliant on the GPS signal for safety critical operations or for operations competing with the US national interest, the GPS signals could be denied at the flip of a switch by a foreign Military Power.


This discomfort encouraged a number of nations and one group of nations to develop their own versions of GPS.  The Russians have developed and have deployed their own Global system called GLONASS.  The Chinese have developed their own Global system called Beidou, The Japanese and Indians have their own regional systems covering their specific geographical areas.  These various systems are all controlled by the Military of their governments.


The only Global system owned and operated entirely by civilian authorities is the European Union’s Galileo system.  The Galileo system is in the deployment stages with 4 satellites in orbit at the time of writing.


Many older GPS receivers are capable of receiving signals from one (GPS) constellation only.  Newer GNSS receivers are multi constellation capable and this has increased system flexibility and integrity.  

The assurances from the US that they will not switch off the GPS signals has encouraged a dramatically increased use of, and dependence on, GPS technology over the last 15 years.


Next: How powerful is that GPS signal?