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Tailoring GPS for the Forest Service: MTDC's Testing and Evaluation Program

Future of GPS in the Forest Service

GPS technology has advanced tremendously during the past two decades. GPS receivers that were very expensive and bulky are now affordable, hand-held units with predicable accuracy. MTDC has helped the Forest Service during this period by evaluating and testing GPS receivers, installing the decoding key for military-grade receivers, and providing training and technical support.

Although GPS receivers are now a consumer product, significant changes planned soon mean the Forest Service will continue to need evaluations, testing, and training.

Galileo Satellite Network

The European Union and the European Space Agency are developing a global navigation satellite constellation that will greatly increase the number of satellites available to users and also perform better (in theory) than the GPS system now used in the United States. The European system, called Galileo, is not based on military needs, although certain channels from the satellites can be turned off during times of "extreme circumstances." The constellation will include 30 satellites. New receivers that receive signals from both the GPS and Galileo satellite constellations should be able to provide higher accuracy.


The Russian Space Agency is committed to reestablishing and modernizing its GLONASS system. Receivers are available that use a combination of GPS and GLONASS satellites to establish position fixes. Extra satellites can help under difficult field conditions, such as under dense tree canopies and in deep canyons.


The United States is planning a new GPS satellite constellation called GPS III. The new system is being developed to improve GPS accuracy and availability for all users. GPS III will have new ground stations and 30 to 32 new satellites, with additional navigation signals for both civilian and military users. The GPS III system is expected to have about 500 times the transmitter power of the current system, providing more robust signal transmissions. The new system is expected to have real-time accuracy within 1 meter without any additional corrections.

MTDC will be testing and evaluating the new Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers that will receive both the GPS and Galileo signals and receivers that receive both the GPS and GLONASS signals. MTDC also will be testing and evaluating the new GPS III receivers as they become available.