A Continuous GPS and seismic monitoring station at Great Rift, Idaho can use precision GPS data from NGA to pick up distortions in the earth’s crust measured in millimeters.

There’s been a push from government agencies, navigation equipment companies, and smartphone manufacturers to wring additional accuracy and performance out of the Global Positioning System’s network of satellites. Part of that effort has included using a network of GPS-fixed reference stations to build an ever-improving model of satellite orbit data, which can be used to help GPS systems pick the right satellites to connect to get a quicker fix.

But there’s a new emerging class of “near-real-time” GPS applications that promise to both squeeze additional accuracy out of GPS signals and in some cases dramatically reduce the power consumption of GPS sensors. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which supplies data on GPS satellite orbits to the Department of Defense and the scientific community, is looking to create these even more accurate calculations of GPS satellite orbit data by collecting data from a wider range of GPS reference stations. But rather than adding more of its own ground stations, NGA is looking to acquire more orbit data, called Precise Ephemeris (PE), through a sort of crowdsourcing—collecting the data from a constellation of GPS ground stations operated by private companies and other institutions.

The agency hopes the resulting network of GPS reference points will speed the gathering of precise location data, create extremely accurate GPS tracking for some GPS receivers, and allow for lightweight tracking devices that can last for months or even years on a single battery charge. The same approach could be used for commercial applications such as smart phone location services, improving their precision while dramatically reducing the power drain from GPS by pushing the computation of location up into the cloud.

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