How Do Satellite Coordinates Work?


Quick Answer

The most common kind of satellite coordinates are GPS coordinates, which work by receiving signals from a "constellation" of 27 satellites in known positions, and determining the latitude and longitude of the receiving instrument relative to the position of four of those satellites. GPS is an acronym for the Global Positioning System. As of 2015, it is controlled and maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense which originally created the GPS as a navigation tool for the U.S. military.

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Full Answer

Minutes and seconds or decimal points in GPS coordinates differentiate between distances of longitude and latitude too small or precise to measure by whole degrees. Minutes and seconds in GPS coordinates refer to arc-minutes and arc-seconds. Arc-minutes are divisions of latitude and longitude degrees into segments of 60, and arc-seconds are divisions of arc-minutes into even smaller segments also totaling 60. Arc-seconds of latitude are generally constant, whereas an arc-second of longitude decreases in size the closer it gets to either one of the geographic poles.

Other satellite coordinate systems include the Global Navigation Satellite System, operated by the Russian Aerospace Defense Force, and Galileo, operated by the European Space Agency. These systems are known as Global Navigation Satellite Systems, and work in much the same way as the U.S. GPS system. The European Space Agency created the Galileo system to provide a greater degree of accuracy when pinpointing the location of receivers.

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