Transforming the way the world works

Getting Perfect Timing

Using GPS for Timing


Extra Measurement Cures Timing Offset

If our receiver's clocks were perfect, then all our satellite ranges would intersect at a single point (which is our position). But with imperfect clocks, a fourth measurement, done as a cross-check, will NOT intersect with the first three.

So the receiver's computer says "Uh-oh! there is a discrepancy in my measurements. I must not be perfectly synced with universal time."

Since any offset from universal time will affect all of our measurements, the receiver looks for a single correction factor that it can subtract from all its timing measurements that would cause them all to intersect at a single point.

That correction brings the receiver's clock back into sync with universal time, and bingo! - you've got atomic accuracy time right in the palm of your hand.

Once it has that correction it applies to all the rest of its measurements and now we've got precise positioning.

One consequence of this principle is that any decent GPS receiver will need to have at least four channels so that it can make the four measurements simultaneously.

With the pseudo-random code as a rock solid timing sync pulse, and this extra measurement trick to get us perfectly synced to universal time, we have got everything we need to measure our distance to a satellite in space.

But for the triangulation to work we not only need to know distance, we also need to know exactly where the satellites are.


In the next section we'll see how we accomplish that.

In Review:
  • Accurate timing is the key to measuring distance to satellites.
  • Satellites are accurate because they have atomic clocks on board.
  • Receiver clocks don't have to be too accurate because an extra satellite range measurement can remove errors.

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