Vol. 6 (2003) > lrr-2003-1

doi: 10.12942/lrr-2003-1
Living Rev. Relativity 6 (2003), 1

Relativity in the Global Positioning System

1 Dept. of Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0390, U.S.A.

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Article Abstract

The Global Positioning System (GPS) uses accurate, stable atomic clocks in satellites and on the ground to provide world-wide position and time determination. These clocks have gravitational and motional frequency shifts which are so large that, without carefully accounting for numerous relativistic effects, the system would not work. This paper discusses the conceptual basis, founded on special and general relativity, for navigation using GPS. Relativistic principles and effects which must be considered include the constancy of the speed of light, the equivalence principle, the Sagnac effect, time dilation, gravitational frequency shifts, and relativity of synchronization. Experimental tests of relativity obtained with a GPS receiver aboard the TOPEX/POSEIDON satellite will be discussed. Recently frequency jumps arising from satellite orbit adjustments have been identified as relativistic effects. These will be explained and some interesting applications of GPS will be discussed.


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Since a Living Reviews in Relativity article may evolve over time, please cite the access <date>, which uniquely identifies the version of the article you are referring to:

Neil Ashby,
"Relativity in the Global Positioning System",
Living Rev. Relativity 6,  (2003),  1. URL (cited on <date>):

Article History

ORIGINAL http://www.livingreviews.org/lrr-2003-1
Title Relativity in the Global Positioning System
Author Neil Ashby
Date accepted 8 January 2003, published 28 January 2003
Date accepted 11 June 2007, published 21 June 2007
Changes Two sections near the end were added; one on Augmentation systems, and one on Global Navigation Systems. General updating: I have updated the text in quite a few places, such as eliminating the word “recently” which is no longer really recently. Also the Conclusion has been appropriately reworded. Added one reference. Living Reviews applied its current layout to this revision. For detailed description see here .

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