Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

The cousins of the GPS navigation system

Suraj Verma
3 min readMay 19, 2021


A satellite navigation system gives the geological positioning of terrain or helps in tracking an object. Satellites are the heart of any technology we use.

Consider a case where you want any restaurant near your location, what is the first thing you do? Pull out your smartphone and search ‘restaurants near me’, isn’t it? And the smartphone pulls in the information from the internet and displays it to you.

This is all possible because of the help of satellites. The information is being pulled from some source on the internet, isn’t it? Think about where did that source get the information from? All thanks to a satellite.

More than 2000 artificial satellites revolving around the earth.

These satellites are sending information constantly which we are able to use. There are different types of satellites like remote sensing satellites, military satellites, weather satellites, etc.

The satellite navigation system is known as the Global Navigation Satellite System(GNSS).

Now many of you might be well aware of GPS. The reason is it’s the oldest GNSS system. The GPS project was first initiated by the US government in 1978. The first fully operational GPS satellite was launched in 1989 by the US Airforce. By 1993 the GPS was complete and was available for global use. There are 24 U.S’s GPS satellites revolving around earth sharing tons of information every second. U.S’s GPS is used by many countries as it’s the oldest GNSS system.

But it is not the only GNSS system in the world. Think about countries like Russia and China; Do you think they would be left behind?

There are currently 4 global GNSS systems and 2 regional NSS systems by the countries.

The global GNSS systems are:

GPS (Global Positioning System)

The US Airforce owns GPS. There are currently 24 GPS satellites in a constellation orbiting around the earth. They were fully functional by 1993.

GLONASS (GLObal NAvigation Satellite System)

This GNSS is owned and operated by the Russian Federation. There are currently more than 24 GLONASS satellites orbiting around the earth.

GLONASS (Source: everythingRF)


It is owned by the European Union. It is operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). This constellation currently has 30 GALILEO satellites orbiting around the Earth with 24 fully functional and 6 spare satellites.


It is the GNSS system operated by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), China. Currently, more than 20 satellites are orbiting around the Earth and the full constellation is expected to have 35 satellites.

There are currently 3 generations of BeiDou satellite system.

  • BeiDou-1 was launched in 2000 with 3 satellites.
  • BeiDou-2 is also known as COMPASS was launched in 2009.
  • BeiDou-3 is the latest generation first launched in 2017. By 2020, the final satellite was launched completing the constellation of 35 satellites.

The regional GNSS systems are:

QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System)

It is the regional satellite navigation system from Japan. It is operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). There are currently 4 satellites orbiting with an expected complete constellation of 7 in the future.

NAVIC (NAVigation with Indian Constellation)

It was earlier known as Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). It’s the regional satellite system of India.

ISRO (Source: The Hans India)

It’s operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). It has 7 satellites in orbit. But currently the first of the seven satellites named — IRNSS A — is not functioning.

The satellite system of India was built in response to the denial of the US to offer it’s GPS to assist India during the Kargil War of 1999 with Pakistan. Despite that India won Kargil War pushing Pakistan back and built the satellite system that we know today as NAVIC.

I would like to thank my readers for dropping here. I hope the time you spent reading my article has been fruitful.😊



Suraj Verma

Developer & Programmer (who loves writing about social sciences & world politics)