Milestone-Proposal:Global Positioning System (GPS), 1973

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Docket #:2017-13</div> This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on "Edit with form", check the "Submit this proposal for review" box at the bottom, and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Global Positioning System (GPS), 1973

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

On the Labor Day weekend in 1973, Col. B. Parkinson and his team of USAF officers spent time at the Pentagon in Washington D. C. preparing to receive approval for launching the development of the most ambitious positioning and navigation system coined as NAVSTAR GPS (Navigation Satellite for Timing and Ranging Global Positioning System) or GPS for short. DSARC finally approved the system in December 1973 after it was structured as a multi-service program. The significant contributors to the successful DSARC approval included the USAF sponsored 621B program of Aerospace Corporation and the demonstration of the viability of launching accurate atomic clocks in space by the Timation program led by Dr. Roger Easton of NRL. The GPS system received its IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in December 1993 and FOC (Final Operational Capability) in April 1995. It was initially developed for military applications only. However, 1 September 1983 incident of USSR shooting down Korean Airlines commercial plane as it happened to stray unintentionally into Soviet airspace led President Reagan to approve the use of GPS for all civilian users worldwide free of cost. Initial estimates of positional performance pointed to a 10 meters accuracy for GPS. The operational system has since demonstrated accuracies of much better than the theoretical estimates. The operational system has also encountered unexpected vulnerability to intentional and unintentional jamming as well as intentional spoofing of its signals. Currently, significant resources are being allocated to make the GPS signals more robust and resistant to any type of foul play. However, the precise timing capability of the GPS remains relatively free from such interference and provides accurate time for worldwide applications and commerce with an accuracy of a few nano-seconds. Admittedly, GPS has become a de-facto utility and several copy-cat systems have sprung up including the GLONASS (Russian), Galilleo (European), Beidou (Chinese), IRNSS (Indian) and QZSS (Japanese). Most of these do not provide the full capability of the GPS and tend to be applicable to the limited regional areas of the developing nation. Metropolitan Los Angeles is justifiably the hub of the GPS development. In the 1970’s Magnavox Company in Torrance was contracted to develop a variety of first generation GPS receivers to demonstrate proof-of-concept for GPS. In the 1980’s Rockwell Corporation manufactured all the satellites for the initial GPS constellation in Downy. LAAFB (Los Angeles Air Force Base) has always been the manager of the GPS program.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

IEEE Coastal Los Angeles/AIAA Los Angeles Sections

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: IEEE Coastal Los Angeles/AIAA Los Angeles Sections
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: IEEE Coastal Los Angeles/AIAA Los Angeles Sections
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: IEEE Coastal Los Angeles and AIAA Los Angeles Sections
IEEE Section Chair name: Section chair name masked to public

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Proposer's name masked to public
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

TBD (Possible sites include the 1) Greenline railway bridge near Aviation Avenue and El Segundo Blvd in the city of El Segundo, California; 2) LAAFB; 3) GPS dedicated park in the city of Redondo Beach or Downy. We can use some help from the IEEE History Center in finding a suitable site.

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. TBD (Possible sites include the 1) Greenline railway bridge near Aviation Avenue and El Segundo Blvd in the city of El Segundo, California; 2) LAAFB; 3) GPS dedicated park in the city of Redondo Beach or Downy. We can use some help from the IEEE History Center in finding a suitable site.

Are the original buildings extant?

The original site for the LAAFB was on the south side of El Segundo Blvd in the city of El Segundo, California. In early 2000’s LAAFB was moved to the north of El Segundo Blvd, directly opposite to the previous location with new buildings. The other facilities and organizations no longer exist as they were at the time of GPS development.

Details of the plaque mounting:


How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?


Who is the present owner of the site(s)?


What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

GPS has completely revolutionized the navigation capability of not only military weapons but all civil life throughout the Globe. By providing a meter or sub-meter positioning accuracy, GPS enables military commanders to perform surgical strikes which minimize non-combat related casualties. For day-to-day lives of humanity all over the world, GPS has enabled the development of automated mapping and navigational systems. GPS has, in short, become a universal utility of all things on the move.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

The approval by the DSARC at the Pentagon in December 1973 was the initial milestone for the GPS program to get its lifeline. Immediately following this milestone, analytical attributes of the system were established along with the development of representative receiver sets when USAF, the program manager, awarded contracts to Magnavox Company and Texas Instruments. USAF Avionics Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio also awarded a contract to Rockwell Collins for the development of the GDM (Generalized Development Model) GPS receiver to test system performance for high dynamics and anti-jam applications such as in a military aircraft. To test performance of these initial receiver sets it was necessary to develop ground facilities at Yuma Proving Grounds (YPG), popularly known as the “Inverted Range” facility. This facility installed transmitters on the ground to provide signals similar to the signals that were to be broadcast by the satellites for the operational GPS.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

The best PNT capability of military systems prior to the availability of GPS was about 200 meters in position and a few microseconds in time. GPS has significantly improved these metrics. Additionally, the previous performance was limited to the theater of operations while GPS makes its performance uniformly available globally. GPS has also revolutionized the availability of PNT capability to everyday lives of everyone in the world. GPS has enabled very accurate time synchronization globally leading to improved communications and commerce. GPS has become a stellar provider of routine driving directions and better traffic management.

References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.

1) 2) "Why Did the Department of Defense Develop GPS?". Trimble Navigation Ltd. 3) "A Guide to the Global Positioning System (GPS) — GPS Timeline". Radio Shack. 4) “The Origin of Global Positioning System and the Pioneers Who Launched the System, Part 1 & 2” by Bradford W. Parkinson and Stephen T. Powers, 5) "The Mathematics of GPS". 6) Bancroft, S. (January 1985). "An Algebraic Solution of the GPS Equations". IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems. AES-21: 56–59. Bibcode:1985 ITAES..21...56B 7) McNamara, Joel (2008). GPS For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. p. 59. 8) Navigation, Journal of the Institute of Navigation, Vol. 25, N0. 2, Summer 1978 Please refer to the first reference cited above for a detailed summary of the system capability and timeline.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

• GPS technology has matured into a resource that goes far beyond its original design goals • These days scientists, sportsmen, farmers, soldiers, pilots, surveyors, hikers, delivery drivers, sailors, dispatchers, lumberjacks, fire-fighters, and people from many other walks of life are using GPS in ways that make their work more productive, safer, and sometimes even easier  Location - determining a basic position  Navigation - getting from one location to another  Tracking - monitoring the movement of people and things  Mapping - creating maps of the world  Timing - bringing precise timing to the world

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).