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GPS Architecture

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Title GPS Architecture
Edited by GMV
Level Basic
Year of Publication 2011
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The GPS architecture is divided into three major segments: a GPS Space Segment (SS), a GPS Ground Segment (CS), and a GPS User Segment (US).

The Space Segment

The main functions of the GPS Space Segment are to transmit radio-navigation signals with a specific signal structure, and to store and retransmit the navigation message sent by the Control Segment. These transmissions are controlled by highly stable atomic clocks on board the satellites.

The GPS Space Segment is formed by a satellite constellation with enough satellites to ensure that the users will have, at least, 4 simultaneous satellites in view from any point at the Earth surface at any time.

The Ground Segment

The GPS Ground Segment (also referred to as Control Segment) is the responsible for the proper operation of the GPS system.

The GPS Control Segment is composed by a network of Monitor Stations (MS), a Master Control Station (MCS) and the Ground Antennas (GA).

The Master Control Station (MCS) processes the measurements received by the Monitor Stations (MS) to estimate satellite orbits (ephemerides) and clock errors, among other parameters, and to generate the navigation message. These corrections and the navigation message are uploaded to the satellites through the Ground Antennas, which are co-located in four of the Monitor stations (Ascension Island, Cape Canaveral, Diego Garcia, and Kwajalein).

The User Segment

The GPS User Segment is composed by GPS Receivers. Their main function is to receive GPS signals, determine pseudoranges (and other observables), and solve the navigation equations in order to obtain their coordinates and provide a very accurate time. Please refer to GNSS Receivers.

Boundaries Among Segments

GPS segments

The communication boundaries between these three segments are documented in the Interface Control Documents (ICDs):[1]

  1. IS-GPS-200:[2] defines the requirements related to the interface between the Space Segment (SS) of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the navigation User Segment (US) of the GPS for radio frequency (RF) link 1 (L1) and link 2 (L2).
  2. IS-GPS-705):[3] defines the requirements related to the interface between the Space Segment (SS) of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the navigation User Segment (US) of the GPS for radio frequency (RF) link 5 (L5).
  3. ICD-GPS-870:[4] This ICD defines the interfaces between the Operational Control Segment and the GPS users. The files provided by the Control Segment to the users are the Almanacs, Operational Advisories (OAs), Anti-Spoofing (A/S) status, and the Notice Advisory to Navstar Users (NANUs).
GPS triad.png

Besides these interface documents, the following three centers (privately referred as the Big Three or the GPS triad) provide a interface between GPS and any user, civilian or military:[5]

  1. U.S. Strategic Command GPS Operations Center (GPSOC): is the Department of Defense (DoD) primary point of contact for information regarding status of GPS Precise Positioning Service (PPS) and GPS Standard Positioning Service (SPS). The GPSOC is in charge of responding to inquiries and providing information regarding the GPS constellation and the existence of space segment anomalies or issues that could result in GPS outages worldwide.
  2. U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Navigation Center (NAVCEN): is the primary interface to all civil non-aviation users of GPS. It provides capabilities for question or issue resolution regarding GPS anomalies and interference reporting, to support maritime and land users with prioritized approach for safety-of-life applications.
  3. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Operations Control Center (NOCC): Responsible for the management and resolution of all aviation reported interference. Due to the safety-of-life considerations, the FAA has well-defined procedures for dealing with the notification and coordination of any interference reports from aviation users, which includes the processing of National Airspace System (NAS) interference reports and specifically, GPS interference reports.