In 2017 the U.S. government allotted $908 million dollars to the federal GPS program in the annual budget. Most of that funding came from the Department of Defense and the rest funded by the Department of Transportation. However, the program didn’t always garner so much support. In fact, evolution of the GPS began decades earlier.
The Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) program was originally approved by the Department of Defense in 1973. The building of that system began in 1979 but wouldn’t come to completion until 1995! GPS allows a person to pinpoint their exact location on the planet in relation to something else. This technology powers almost everything we operate today, from our cars, to who delivers us food, to keeping planes in the air. But GPS technology wouldn’t exist without the space race of the 1950s.
The Russian presentation of Sputnik to orbit unleashed a worldwide frenzy of innovation. It directly inspired the invention of the Transit Navigation System, the direct predecessor of the GPS, by Frank T. McClure. McClure worked with two scientists at Johns Hopkins University who were working with the Doppler Effect to track submarines underwater. He discovered that with his research and theirs, the idea could be used for much more than submarine location, but rather navigation as a whole throughout the world!
McClure gained the support of the U.S. Navy and DARPA to bring the Transit system to fruition and launch in 1964. It became known as NAVSAT and would be used as the primary source of navigation for more than thirty years. The Transit system wasn’t without its faults, however. It was cumbersome to use and didn’t always conclude the most accurate position.
With the need to perfect the system, U.S. Naval researcher Roger Easton jumped into action. He used time along with navigation technology to develop Timation. Satellites could offer positioning passively which made navigation available to the masses, not just the military. He first tested this idea in the 1960s by sending two Timation satellites up into space. Easton's research laid the groundwork for the 1973 launch of the GPS. The program was given a modest budget of $150 million and would eventually grow in use in the coming decades.
Now, GPS is available in everyone’s pockets with the use of a simple smartphone. But, who knew such technology would take decades to perfect and be one of the best investments the U.S. government has ever made!