History GPS Satellites and Commercial GPS Tracking


GPS is a positioning and navigation service based on a constellation of satellites owned by the United States. The evolution of GPS started in 1957 with the launch of the first artificial satellite. In the early 1970s, the Department of Defense launched its first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite, and the 24-satellite system became fully operational in 1993. GPS is widely used for commercial purposes, such as fleet tracking, aviation, logistics, and emergency response. 

The commercial use of GPS tracking began with fleet telematics in 1974, and the first handheld GPS navigation device was introduced to the consumer market in 1989. Today, GPS plays an important role in almost everyone’s life.

GPS tracking is serving many industries ship navigation, aviation industry, logistics sector and for various emergency responses. GPS is navigation and positioning service based on a constellation of satellites which are owned by the United States of America.

In this article, we will come across the different stages in the evolution of the GPS satellites and the commercial use of GPS tracking 

Evolution of GPS satellites 

GPS has evolved so much in the past years. It all began in 1957 when Soviet Union successfully launched “Sputnik” the world’s first artificial satellite. 

During this time the scientists came up with a method called “Doppler Effect” which helped them to track the satellite with shifts in its radio signal and thus this was the first step towards GPS

In the mid-1960s the United States Navy conducted a number of satellite navigation experiments to help track US submarines carrying nuclear missiles. With six satellites orbiting the poles, they were able to observe the satellite changes in Doppler and pinpoint the submarine’s location within a matter of minutes.

In the early 1970s, the Department of Defense (DoD) wanted to ensure a stable satellite navigation system would be available. With the ideas provided by the Navy scientists, the DoD decided to use satellites to carry forward their proposed navigation system which was followed by the launch of its first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite in 1978. The 24 satellites system became fully operational in 1993.

Here is a detailed evolution timeline of GPS satellite 

  • 1959: The first functioning satellite navigation system named “TRANSIT” was developed by the United States Navy.

  • 1963: A military study was submitted, which suggested that a constellation of space satellites could be used to send continuous signals to receivers on the ground.

  • 1967: The Timation satellite was created by the U.S Navy, this satellite demonstrated that accurate clocks could be placed in space. 

  • 1978: The military launched the first satellite that was to be part of the NAVSTAR system which stands for “Navigation System with Timing and Ranging”

  • 1978 – 1985: 11 more satellites were launched to test the GPS system. 

  • 1983: Ronald Reagan made an announced that commercial air carriers would be allowed to use the GPS system to improve navigation and air safety once the system was completed.

  • 1985: A contract was signed between The United States federal government and the privately owned businesses to create “airborne, shipborne and man-pack” receivers that would be used in the GPS system.

  • 1989: The first fully functional GPS satellite was launched by The U.S. Air Force, a Block II. Even the first handheld GPS navigation device was introduced to the consumer market by the Magellan Corporation in this year.

  • 1990: The Department of Defense used Selective Availability to purposefully decrease the accuracy of the GPS system that was available to civilians. 

  • 1992: The 50th Space Wing began managing the GPS system.

  • 1993 – 1994: In December of 1993, the GPS system became operational for the first time. A constellation consisting of 24 satellites was in space.

  • 1995: When only 24 satellites were necessary for the system to function properly, three additional satellites were launched into space as backups.

  • 1996: A directive making the GPS system a dual-use system for military and civilian purposes was issued by President Bill Clinton.

  • 1998: A plan stating the GPS system to transmit two more signals for civilian platforms, with an emphasis on improving aviation safety was made

  • 1999: Benefon, a mobile phone producer, introduced the first cell phone that had built-in GPS capabilities in 1999.

  • 2000: The accuracy of public GPS signals increased greatly overnight, which caught the attention of business leaders across industries.

  • 2001: New products, such as in-car navigation tools created by TomTom and Garmin, began to appear in the marketplace.

  • 2004: Qualcomm announced it had developed technology that allowed mobile phones to use cellular signals together with GPS signals. This combination of signals accurately identified the location of users to within a few feet of their actual physical locations.

  • 2005: The initial satellite in the second generation of GPS satellites known as “Block II” was launched into space.

  • 2007: The United States government announced that the third generation of GPS satellites, GPS III, would be manufactured without the Selective Availability feature.

  • 2010 – 2011: Two additional satellites were launched into space to ensure the GPS system would remain operational.

  • 2011: The U.S. Air Force increased the size of the GPS system’s instead of having 24 satellites, the GPS system had a new constellation of 27 satellites.  This change GPS service throughout the world.

  • 2016: The GPS system’s constellation included 31 working satellites. The constellation is actively managed so that a minimum of 24 satellites are available at least 95 percent of the time per day. 

In the past years, the GPS satellites have advanced so much because of which the future enhancements have bigger expectations from the people. 

Growth of Commercial GPS Tracking

Nowadays using GPS for commercial purpose has become very common and plays an important role in almost everyone’s life. 

Fleet telematics had its origin in 1974. A form of fleet telematics was begun by the U.S. automobile industry to make things easier and systematic; as new cars rolled out of assembly plants via motors manufacturers, they were catalogued using an electronic process. 

When orders were placed, a mainframe-to-mainframe method of communicating was used for electronic processing of orders, and vehicle status reports were generated using computer technology. This was the beginning of fleet tracking and the stepping stone for commercializing GPS.

In the history of GPS vehicle tracking the major milestone was in 1978. The experimental Block-I GPS satellite was launched into space in 1978, this system was a successful test. By by the end of 1985, 10 more Block-I satellites were launched to further validate the concept.

In the early years, GPS technology was not yet operational, due to the insufficient number of satellites orbiting the earth. On Jan. 17, 1994, after years of gradual growth,  finally, 24 satellites were launched, and the GPS system was considered fully operational. Today, fleet tracking taps into this same technology.

How GPS Tracking Helps Your Business

GPS tracking has come a long way from dots-on-a-map software. This solution can help you accomplish your business objectives. It improves efficiency and provides savings that add revenue. High fuel costs are always top of mind for those that manage a mobile workforce. Some of the features of GPS tracking that help you greatly are:

  • Most of the GPS tracking solutions offer alerts that can notify you about harsh driving behaviours. This enables you to coach the drivers to do better.
  • It  reduces risk and the likelihood of a collision, saving maintenance and downtime costs
  • GPS fleet tracking and real-time monitoring capabilities enable you to provide up-to-the-minute arrival information for your customers. Doing this increases customer satisfaction

  • Vehicle and asset tracking can also help you identify  unauthorized after-hours use utilizing the geo-fence feature. This functionality ensures that employees do not use vehicles and assets for personal reasons.

It usually doesn’t take long for implementing a real-time GPS tracking system to start reaping the benefits and solve your business challenges. Join us and gain a competitive edge that GPS tracking software provides if you haven’t already. 

How does Vamosys help in Fleet Tracking?

VAMOSYS has developed its own software for GPS vehicle tracking and fleet management solutions. We use the quality GPS devices from teltonika and Concox for tracking the vehicles.

Our Solutions will address the problems of Logistics Sector like

  • Fuel Monitoring
  • Speed Alert
  • Real Time Tracking
  • Geofence marking
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Trip Management and lot more

GPS tracking is part of all logistics sector today, it all started with the simple communication device for military is now became the life line of all navigation, aviation and fleet tracking.

Rasika is an engineering graduate and writes articles on topics related to technology, telematics, fleet management. She is interested in sales and marketing to explore opportunities, especially in content marketing.

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