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GNSS, GPS, GLONASS and Galileo

A closer look at the new terminology in 3D machine control systems

If you have been looking into 3D machine control for your earthmoving machines lately, you may have noticed some new terminology that wasn't there just a few years ago.

Where we before spoke only of GPS, we now use terms such as GNSS, GLONASS, Galileo and Compass.

The term most are familiar with is undoubtedly 'GPS'. It has become ubiquitous with satellite navigation and is widely used as a generic term.

GNSS for 3D machine control
GPS stands for Global Positioning System and is in fact a navigation satellite system owned and operated by the US Department of Defense. (Its proper name is NAVSTAR GPS: NAVigation Signal Timing And Ranging Global Positioning System).

The main 'rival' to GPS is the Russian-owned GLONASS system. This satellite system was launched in 1982 and is operated by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

Galileo satellite for 3D machine
Both the GPS and the GLONASS constellations are at the time of this writing fully operational and have global coverage.

With the existence of two comparable systems, the term GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) was brought out to describe satellite positioning systems in general.

GPS and GLONASS are, therefore, both GNSS systems.

If your receiver can track more satellites (from both the GPS and GLONASS systems) then it will be able to "see" more satellites, even under difficult conditions. Ultimately, this means more up-time for you, the contractor.
GIOVE-A: The first test-satellite of the Galileo constellation

In addition to the above-mentioned systems, two additional GNSS systems are currently under construction: Galileo is being built by the European Union and China is expanding on their existing Beidou constellation with the intent of making it a global system. The latter is often referred to in the West as Compass.

When these become fully operational, there will be a total of four systems.

Some manufacturers are already offering GNSS receivers that they state will be able to track these two new systems once they are operational.

Topcon offers its G3 technology in some of their receivers which they state will track GPS, GLONASS and Galileo. They have also annouced they have tracked Compass signals in the lab, -although by utilizing prototype receivers.

Trimble is offering GPS and GLONASS tracking in their MS990 machine control GNSS receiver. Similarly, Leica's PowerBox and PowerAntenna can also track both constellations.

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