Glonass – what is it?

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Many navigation systems and smartphones support the Russian satellite navigation system Glonass , which was initially developed only for military purposes. It has now also been released for civil use and can be used worldwide. The satellite-based positioning process from Russia is operated by the Ministry of Defense there; the abbreviation stands for “Globalnaja nawigazionnaja sputnikovaja sistema” which means something like: Global Navigation Satellite System .

The technology used is similar to that of the well-known GPS system; the receiving device picks up the corresponding signal from the satellite and uses this information to calculate its own position. Not only can the position be determined, this data can also be used for positioning and navigation.

Creation of the Glonass satellite navigation system

For a long time, Glonass was considered the only alternative to the GPS system from America and is also under military control. Since 2011, this service has been available to the general public and, in combination with GPS, provides particularly precise location data . The development of the Glonass system began in 1972 and is based on military strategic ideas; the first three satellites were launched ten years later.

In 1993, Glonass was officially declared operational and has continued to be expanded from then on. Use was initially made artificially more difficult for civilians and was limited to a maximum of 30 meters, but the accuracy of the location is now between 7 and 10 meters.

Technology and system

The Glonass satellites orbit the earth on three orbit levels at a similar speed to the GPS satellites, this ensures a greater height above the horizon for the user, especially for users at high latitudes, this improves availability. The orbit altitude is approximately 19,000 km, 1,000 km less than with the GPS system. Unlike the American alternative, each Glonass satellite transmits with the same code but on different frequencies .

For regular operation, at least 24 satellites are required in orbit to ensure high accessibility anywhere in the world. Until 2011, the number of satellites was not sufficient to carry out precise location determination ; the receiver always requires four parameters.

The receiving device must receive the signal from four satellites in order to determine the exact location. In this case, the fourth measured value is the exact time , which is particularly important for determining the location. After the system was released, errors occurred during satellite launches , but Glonass is now fully operational and complements the existing positioning systems .

The supervision of the state development program covers many ministries and specialized bodies of the Russian administration. Federal programs were created to expand, improve and maintain the entire system.

Constellation and ground stations

The current plan calls for 30 satellites , eight of which will be spread over three orbits, and two reserve satellites will also be available each. The ground stations that are available are located in Russia, Ukraine and on territories of the Russian Federation. In contrast to GPS , Glonass offers a stable orbital system in which no correction pulses are needed. The transmitted data corresponds to the geocentric coordinate system, which means that the origin is located at the center of the Earth’s masses, the Z-axis is directed to the conditional Earth pole, the X-axis is directed along the Earth’s equator and the Y-axis complements the coordinate system To the right. The time scale for reference is the Russian national coordinated time scale, UTC.


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The system was originally developed for military purposes , and today the Russian military is the main user. It is also used in devices such as the navigation system in the car, smartphones and trackers. There it is used to record movement or to get directions to get to the desired destination.

Compatible consumer devices can receive and evaluate Glonass satellite signals . Basically, the structure and function is similar to the other available satellite systems such as Beidou, GPS or the European GNSS system Galileo . There are only minor differences; the use of a combination of these systems is particularly suitable for precise position determination .

Russian information system Era-Glonass

Based on the Glonass satellite system, a state emergency call system was launched in 2014. The automated Russian information system Era-Glonass quickly and reliably forwards information about traffic accidents to the relevant emergency services. In the event of an incident, Era-Glonass automatically evaluates the severity of the accident. This information is sent from the terminal on the car through the satellites; this function can also be done manually to call for help . The location data is always included in the emergency call made . This state emergency system uses the signals from Glonass and is comparable to the European emergency system eCall. Since 2018, this technology must be installed in every new vehicle in Russia so that these services are available to everyone. This can always be retrofitted in older vehicles to save valuable time in an emergency. This terminal consists of a navigation module (GPS/Glonass), a modem for transmission via the mobile network, sensors for recording the accident, a display block, an intercom for communication, an emergency call button and an antenna for receiving and sending information.

Additional services can also be provided, such as remote diagnosis, analysis of vehicle data or security and search systems. The use of the Era-Glonass system promotes a short response time in emergencies or traffic accidents and increases traffic safety.

Difference between Glonass and global positioning system

The GPS system from America has 31 satellites, Glonass is operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense and consists of 24 satellites. They also differ minimally in their orbital altitude; the orbital period of the Russian satellites is shorter. The Glonass satellites orbit the Earth at a greater inclination, which favors good availability in polar regions . In comparison, the consumer benefits primarily from using both satellite systems . The accuracy of both navigation satellite systems depends on the conditions, shadowing and the receiver used. Basically, both systems, GPS and Glonass, settle between 5 and 10 meters.

Combination with GPS system

navigation satellite system alone is often sufficient in many cases, but the connection of different systems is particularly good if the devices allow this. For example, GPS can be combined with the GNSS Galileo system and the user benefits from the service of both signals for navigation or determining a specific location. Glonass and GPS also offer many advantages for civilian use. The use is more flexible and the accuracy of the location is significantly improved, which increases the reliability of the end devices. In poor conditions, the accuracy of the position determination increases compared to simply using a system. There are already devices that use both satellite signals from Glonass and GPS and offer the consumer the maximum possible accuracy at every point. If the satellite signal from one system is not recognized correctly or is distorted, the incorrect transmission can be supplemented using the information from the other system.

For several years now, Glonass -capable chips, in combination with GPS, have been installed in high-quality devices and are therefore almost standard . Most cell phones can now access the Russian system, and you can often specify in your own settings whether you want to receive GPS, Glonass or both.

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