The Global Positioning System did not begin as a sophisticated constellation of satellites used to precisely pinpoint the location of receivers throughout the globe that it is today. Quite to the contrary, conditions spurring the GPS’s creation called for simply a missile guidance system. Like with many significant technological inventions, the creators of the GPS slowly came to realize that these missiles needed a sophisticated and widespread network in order to become functional on a global scale.
On April 13, 1960, the earliest component of the GPS was launched, taking the form of a satellite TRANSIT IB. After the United States Navy realized its potential to locate ballistic missile, submarines, and ships, they rallied the federal government for prompt support of research projects to further develop navigation technology. It just so happened that May 15, 1960, Ivan Getting and his team of research and development specialists at Raytheon Company completed plans for a radio-navigation system called Mobile System for Accurate ICBM Control, or MOSAIC, for the Air Force. With so much success in such a short span of time, the United States government went forward with the creation of the Aerospace Corporation to which Getting was appointed president. Its goal was straightforward, “to aid the United States Air Force in applying the full resources of modern science and technology to the problem of achieving those continuing advances in ballistic missiles and military space systems which are basic to national security.” By the end of June, 1960, less than two months from Getting’s initial proposal of plans for ICBM navigation, the Aerospace Corporation was already hard at work on its latest task of putting together a working missile navigation system. (GPS Timeline)
Though one component of the GPS was already in orbit, TRANSIT IB, plans for a GPS system as it is understand today were not conceptualized until 1963, with a project by the Aerospace Corporation coined Project 57, and later renamed Project 621B. Their chief concern was addressing how navigation points could be established using satellites in Earth’s orbit. This is the point where the research team was joined by Brad Parkinson, who helped research an answer to this quandary. Into the late 1960’s, their research continued within the company’s Systems Planning Division, receiving great fiscal encouragement in the wake of a growing nuclear threat from Russia.
TIMATION, later known as NAVSTAR, came forward in 1973, and was, by great leaps, the most successful prototype of GPS that had been tested yet. Before it was coined GPS, TIMATION/NAVSTAR went through two distinct stages of prototypical development. Block I evaluated the theoretical principles of GPS and served as a trial and error type of experiment. Many failed, yet successful ideas were incorporated into future designs. Block II satellites formed the first constellation, allowing an accurate measure of positioning on the ground, moving entirely apart from missile guidance. (Wade) Block II satellites were declared operational in 1995. (GPS Timeline)