A GPS receiver calculates its position by precisely timing the signals sent by the GPS satellites high above the Earth. Each satellite continually transmits messages containing the time the message was sent, precise orbital information (the ephemeris), and the general system health and rough orbits of all GPS satellites (the almanac). The receiver measures the transit time of each message and computes the distance to each satellite. Geometric trilateration is used to combine these distances with the location of the satellites to determine the receiver's location. The position is displayed, perhaps with a moving map display or latitude and longitude; elevation information may be included. Many GPS units also show derived information such as direction and speed, calculated from position changes.
It might seem three satellites are enough to solve for position, since space has three dimensions. However, even a very small clock error multiplied by the very large speed of light—the speed at which satellite signals propagate—results in a large positional error. Therefore receivers use four or more satellites to solve for x, y, z, and t, which is used to correct the receiver's clock. While most GPS applications use the computed location only and effectively hide the very accurately computed time, it is used in a few specialized GPS applications such as time transfer, traffic signal timing, and synchronization of cell phone base stations.
Global Positioning System (GPS) is a U.S. space-based radionavigation system that provides reliable positioning, navigation, and timing services to civilian users on a continuous worldwide basis -- freely available to all. For anyone with a GPS receiver, the system will provide location and time. GPS provides accurate location and time information for an unlimited number of people in all weather, day and night, anywhere in the world.
The GPS is made up of three parts: satellites orbiting the Earth; control and monitoring stations on Earth; and the GPS receivers owned by users. GPS satellites broadcast signals from space that are picked up and identified by GPS receivers. Each GPS receiver then provides three-dimensional location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) plus the time.