Working well after midnight on July 19, 1977, a Rockwell Collins engineer named David Van Dusseldorp sat on the rooftop of a company building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, adjusting an antenna every five minutes to receive a signal from the world’s first Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, known as NTS-2.
Within a small window of time, the satellite was turned on and the message was successfully received and decoded by the team working the GPS receiver below.
Since then, the technology has grown to be the standard of navigation around the world and touches nearly every part of our daily lives. To commemorate the 40-year anniversary, Rockwell Collins invited retirees involved in the project to share their firsthand stories at an event held in Cedar Rapids today.
“We had leaders and team members working together and I knew we could meet the challenge put before us,” said Van Dusseldorp. “The future of GPS was uncertain at the time, but I really felt like we had just accomplished something important.”
Soon after successfully receiving the signal, the U.S. Air Force awarded Rockwell Collins the NAVSTAR GPS user equipment contract. This was the first of many wins that would position the company as a market leader in GPS products for aerospace and defense.
Since that time, Rockwell Collins has continued to pioneer advancements in GPS such as being the first to complete a transatlantic flight using GPS navigation in 1983. In 1994, a secure, military-grade Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR) was first fielded that provided warfighters a tactical navigational advantage on the battlefield.
In 2014, Rockwell Collins achieved another milestone in navigation technology by successfully developing a prototype to track a satellite in the Galileo navigation system being created by the European Union to provide global coverage for its nations.
A modern version of the GPS receiver used in 1977 is the Rockwell Collins GPS-4000S, which has the ability to process the transmissions of up to 10 GPS satellites and two Space-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) geostationary satellites simultaneously. Compared to the first GPS receiver station that was six feet tall and had two seats, the GPS-4000S receiver is only 7.87 inches tall.
Size and power of receivers have evolved for different applications, like the Micro GPS Receiver Application Module (MicroGRAM). The receiver is only one inch tall, can use data from up to 12 GPS satellites and consumes the least power of any receiver in its class. Other advancements in receivers include anti-jamming and anti-spoofing technologies crucial to security and efficiency when used within critical military and aircraft operations.
Since that historic day 40 years ago, Rockwell Collins has introduced more than 50 GPS products including GPS anti-jam and precision landing systems, and has delivered more than one million GPS receivers for commercial avionics and government applications, helping shape how the world navigates both on the ground and in the air.